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Reformative training for youth in Singapore zoo backflip stunt who took drugs, killed frog, cut ankle tag

SINGAPORE — A 19-year-old teenager who pleaded guilty last month to several charges, including trespassing the Singapore Zoo’s rhinoceros enclosure to perform a backflip, was sentenced to a minimum of 12 months’ reformative training on Monday (Dec 20).

Reformative training for youth in Singapore zoo backflip stunt who took drugs, killed frog, cut ankle tag

Ralph Wee Yi Kai arriving at the State Courts (left) in July 2021, and a screengrab of a TikTok video (right), where a young man is seen in a rhinoceros enclosure at the Singapore Zoo.

  • Ralph Wee Yi Kai, 19, pleaded guilty in November to eight charges including drug consumption and criminal trespass
  • Wee first made headlines for posting a TikTok video of him backflipping in a rhino enclosure at the Singapore Zoo
  • He was found suitable for reformative training, a more serious punishment for young offenders compared to probation
  • His lawyer argued that he had made “very bad mistakes” and was willing to change
  • A judge noted that he turned to drugs and alcohol in order to cope with difficult situations, with his parents calling the police at one point

SINGAPORE — A 19-year-old teenager who pleaded guilty last month to several charges, including trespassing the Singapore Zoo’s rhinoceros enclosure to perform a backflip, was sentenced to a minimum of 12 months’ reformative training on Monday (Dec 20).

Aside from the zoo incident, Ralph Wee Yi Kai had committed more offences such as consuming cannabis, killing a frog during a Christmas gathering, damaging the side mirrors of a Mercedes Benz, possessing e-cigarette pods, and cutting off his electronic ankle tag.

The Singaporean youth has been held in remand since early last month, after he failed to wake up for his court hearing to face more charges.

He admitted in court to eight charges, with six other similar charges taken into consideration for sentencing purposes.

District Judge May Mesenas noted Wee’s “troubling behaviour” of turning to drugs and alcohol in order to cope with difficult situations, and ruled that reformative training would provide a structured environment for him to be rehabilitated.

He was found unsuitable for probation, which is usually offered to first-time offenders aged between 16 and 21 and does not result in a criminal record. Probation also allows young offenders to continue with their education or employment while serving their sentences.

Reformative training is a regimented rehabilitation programme for offenders under 21 who commit relatively serious crimes.

'A GOOD BOY WHO MADE MISTAKES'

Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Melissa Lee argued that Wee had committed a relatively large number of offences over a short period of time, and that there was a need for a “stiff sentence to quell public disquiet”.

The prosecutor noted that he had “demonstrated a proclivity for offending behaviour” and “blatant disregard of rules and for his caregivers”.

He was expelled from several schools here due to disciplinary problems and was eventually homeschooled.

Wee’s parents have been unable to adequately control him as well, with the youth having run away from home and stayed with friends after several disagreements with them. Along with that, he cannot comply with curfews, DPP Lee added.

“While his relationship with his parents has seemingly improved… they have reported that he’s short-tempered and behaves with rage when intoxicated with drugs. His parents’ attempts to control his drug and alcohol abuse were futile as he found other ways to obtain these items,” the prosecutor said.

Wee was admitted to the Institute of Mental Health in August because of the risk he posed to his parents. His parents also had to seek help from the police due to his drug use, which cast doubts on their ability to supervise him during probation, DPP Lee said.

In arguing for reformative training to be imposed, DPP Lee said that Wee himself had even testified to the effectiveness of being in remand. The teenager described it as a “wakeup call” and said that he would be “in a more miserable state than now if he was not arrested”, the prosecutor added.

Wee’s lawyer, Mr Shashi Nathan from Withers KhattarWong, asked for probation or the minimum six months of reformative training instead.

“Ralph is not a bad boy. He’s a good boy who has made very bad mistakes, errors in judgement… but he’s willing to learn and make reparations," the defence counsel said.

“He’s willing to change. It’s unfortunate he had to be remanded for this to hit home — and it has hit home.”

WHAT HAPPENED

The court previously heard that Wee had jumped over the low fence of the white rhinoceros enclosure at the Singapore Zoo after watching a viral video of a man riding a giraffe.

His then-girlfriend recorded his backflip stunt and the video clip was later uploaded to his public TikTok account. It had been viewed about 55,000 times by the time a zoo employee made a police report.

As for the frog incident, Wee had gone to a friend’s home at Sentosa Cove the day before Christmas last year. His friend had bought two packets containing 17 frogs as a Christmas prank for another guest.

While playing foosball with his friends, Wee placed a frog on the table and directed a ball at the creature with high speed and force. The frog died soon after.

One of Wee's friends filmed the incident and posted it on social media. Screenshots of the Instagram Story posts circulated soon after.

His most recent offence was for cutting off his electronic ankle tag on Oct 26, following an argument with his father who had reminded him to sleep early in order to report to the Tanglin Division of the Central Narcotics Bureau.

He then cycled to a friend’s home before his father discovered that he was gone and the father called the police.

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