A police sergeant who wanted to ensure a youth who reeked of alcohol returned home safely was instead racially abused and spat in the face.
The seriousness of university graduand Stephen Albert's criminal conduct was underlined by a judge who jailed him for two weeks for the spitting offence and fined him $3,000 for hurling obscenities at the officer.
Making clear that a deterrent signal must be sent to like-minded offenders, District Judge Lim Tse Haw said that "in the current climate of a heightened sense of security threat due to numerous terrorist attacks in other countries, our police officers must be given every protection from any abuse so as to enable them to carry out their duties to protect public safety".
He added in judgment grounds last week: "Spitting is a vile and degrading act, and when it is directed at the victim's eyes or mouth, it puts the police officer at risk of transmission of HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C where there is mucous... contact with blood-stained bodily fluid."
The police sergeant and another officer had responded to a call from a taxi driver on July 31 last year at about 4.30am. The cabby had complained that he was unable to rouse Albert from his sleep. As a result, he could not ascertain Albert's final destination, after arriving at Block 157 in Lorong 1 Toa Payoh.
The 20-year-old Indonesian had earlier consumed alcohol with friends. He had boarded the taxi at St James Power Station and told the cabby to go to Toa Payoh.
After the officers woke Albert up, he hurled vulgarities when asked for his identification card. He gave his address only after he was warned.
The cabby then agreed to take Albert to Trellis Towers in Lorong 1 Toa Payoh, with the policemen following them to ensure the safety of both the taxi driver and his passenger.
But after he alighted outside the condo, Albert shouted obscenities again at the police sergeant. He did this despite being warned and was arrested.
He then spat on the officer twice after he was handcuffed.
Abert's lawyer Manoj Nandwani pointed to his client's youth and clean record, and urged the court to assess his suitability for probation.
Meanwhile, Deputy Public Prosecutor Daphne Lim called for a jail term of six weeks for using criminal force against a public servant by spitting, arguing that the abuse of a police officer cannot be tolerated. She pointed to a Straits Times article last December which showed a spike in the number of such cases.
The judge found there was insufficient basis to call for a pre-sentence report to assess his suitability for probation and ruled that the starting point for spitting at a policeman must be a jail term.
The accused "engaged in sustained egregious racist behaviour in unleashing torrents of racist abuse targeted at the victim's race throughout the incident. It was a persistent racist attack on the victim," said Judge Lim, who sentenced him to a fine under the Protection from Harassment Act.
Albert is appealing against both sentences, while the prosecution is appealing for a longer jail term for the spitting charge.