Lawyer who attacked family in St. Thomas with a baseball bat won't be going to jail

Mark Phillips, the Toronto lawyer charged in December after a family was attacked with a baseball bat in a St. Thomas, Ont. parking lot, pleaded guilty Tuesday to assault causing bodily harm.

Mark Phillips was suffering from a drug-induced psychosis at the time of the December incident

Mark Phillips, 36, pleaded guilty Tuesday to assault causing bodily harm after attacking a family with a baseball bat in December. (Kate Dubinski/CBC News)

The Toronto lawyer who attacked a St. Thomas, Ont. family with a baseball bat and called them terrorists was suffering from a drug-induced psychosis at the time of the incident, his lawyer and psychiatrist say.

Mark Phillips, 36, pleaded guilty to one count of assault causing bodily harm in a St. Thomas court Tuesday. He was given a conditional discharge with three years probation.

He was originally facing a more serious charge of aggravated assault following the December incident but admitted to the lesser offence.  

With his mental health declining in the preceding months and weeks, Phillips smoked three or four joints before driving to London and then to nearby St. Thomas on Dec. 7, 2017, getting into arguments with people he believed to be Muslims targeting him along the way, his lawyer Steven Skurka told Justice John Skowronski. 

A psychiatrist who has been working with Phillips since his arrest said the personal injury lawyer "had no insight that his marijuana use was affecting his mental state." Once he stopped smoking, Phillips was able to have clear thoughts, the psychiatrist wrote in a report. 

In fact, it wasn't until weeks later, after he had been released from jail and the drugs left his system, that Phillips watched the YouTube video of the incident recorded by the family. 
A family in southwestern Ontario was attacked and called terrorists by a man wielding a bat. Sergio Estepa is nursing a cracked rib and a large bruise after the incident in a mall parking lot. Mark Phillips, 36, has been charged with aggravated assault and three counts of assault with a weapon. 1:28

In it, Phillips is seen lunging at the Estepa family, wild-eyed and demanding, while wielding a baseball bat.

"What I did was irrational, irresponsible and deeply unacceptable," Phillips said in a letter read out in court. "I'm horrified and embarrassed and I feel ashamed." 

Family testifies the attack has left them with 'scar'

Originally from Colombia, family members were speaking Spanish when they were confronted by Phillips in the parking lot. He yelled at them, lunged at them with a baseball bat, called them terrorists and said they were not welcome in Canada.
(Left to right) Sergio Estepa, Nick Estepa and Mari Zambrano stand in front of the St. Thomas courthouse with a piece of art Nick Estepa created as part of his victim impact statement. (Kate Dubinski/CBC News)

Sergio Estepa, who came to Canada 18 years ago to live a life free of violence, sustained cracked ribs after being struck by the bat when he stepped in to protect his 13-year-old son, Nick. 

"I raised my son to be proud, to be proud of our ethnicity, to be compassionate, because it's up to us to build a better society," Sergio Estepa told the court in his victim impact statement. 
Sergio Estepa suffered cracked ribs and bruising after he was hit with a baseball bat swung by Mark Phillips. (Kate Dubinski/CBC News)

Nick Estepa said he felt helpless in that parking lot.

"Watching my dad get beat by a baseball bat took my heart away," he said. 

"Before this incident I was nobody in this town. Now, I'm the guy who was the victim of the bat attack. I don't want to be remembered that way," the younger Estepa told the court. 

Sergio's wife and Nick's mom, Mari Zambrano, also read a tearful victim impact statement in court. She said the family has been living in fear since the attack.

Zambrano said she really didn't want charges to be laid because she wanted the incident behind her. She said it's been consuming the family.

"This scar is with us for good," she told the court. "We came to Canada to live in a country without war, violence."

''This is not Canada,' judge says

When delivering his sentence, Skowronski praised the Estepa family for having the courage to speak up. 

"Canada is a country of immigrants with different names, different accents, different skin colours. That's what built Canada, why people want to come here, why people who are here are proud to be here. Events like this take the shine off that," he said. 

But he agreed with the Crown and defence that Phillips actions weren't a hate crime. Instead, the marijuana Phillips smoked made his deteriorating mental health even worse, the judge agreed. Phillips' parents told his doctor they noticed him getting paranoid and having strange delusions in the weeks leading up to the December incident. 

"To the Estapa family,  I say this is not normalcy," the judge said. "This is an aberration that took place because of a mental illness."

Probation includes other measures

The three years probation given to Phillips includes 240 hours of community service, working with immigrants if possible. Phillips must also seek counselling and is not allowed to come to Elgin County unless for business.

The probation order means he is not allowed to use "non-prescription drugs or marijuana," even when it's legal this summer.

Phillips will have no criminal record after he completes the terms of his probation. He's already volunteering at a food bank, the court was told. 

Crown Lisa Defoe had asked for a suspended sentence, which would have included probation and community service — but also a criminal record. 

Both lawyers did agree the incident was not a hate crime and that a jail sentence was not necessary.

Phillips is a member a legendary Toronto family 

Phillips is the great-grandson of Nathan Phillips, a popular Toronto mayor after whom a public square in front of Toronto city hall is named. 

Like his great grandfather, Phillips also chose law as a profession. He is a personal injury lawyer. 

Ten days after his arrest, Phillips was released on $5,000 with his parents acting as sureties.