The 23-year-old who slashed a complete stranger in the neck at St. George Station in Toronto last year has been sentenced to 18 months in prison, in a decision that sheds light on the young man’s troubled history.
In a ruling posted this month, Justice Brock Jones called Donta Easterbrook’s actions “an unprovoked, random attack on an innocent citizen,” and outlined Easterbrook’s crystal meth addiction and mental health problems that had not been treated successfully.
“Mr. Easterbrook’s assault on Mr. Greco was dangerous, violent and completely unjustified. It showed utter contempt for his life and safety. It could have resulted in serious injury,” the justice wrote.
“His actions have left every innocent member of the public to wonder if they would be safe when they next chose to enter a subway station.”
One night in April 2022, at around 11:20 p.m., 30-year-old Mario Greco was finishing a date with a woman when they were approached by a man at the station, Greco recalled in an interview with CTV News Toronto.
“He was looking disturbed, bobbing his head up and down,” Greco said. The man started to talk to his companion, and Greco engaged him to be ‘nice’ — then suddenly felt what he thought was a bee sting on his neck. He touched it and felt blood and realized he’d been attacked.
“I thought I was going to die. I was terrified,” Greco said. Pictures Greco shared showed the immediate aftermath: the inch-long wound needed three stitches and could have been much worse if it hit an artery.
An image of Mario Greco’s stab wound following the attack. (Supplied)
“I was so happy about how lucky I was. The main thing I was thinking is I’m so lucky, thank God I’m still here,” Greco said.
The attack came amid a wave of high-profile incidents that had some riders doubting transit safety. Jones’ ruling explains some of the back story behind the random attack.
Easterbrook had an abusive childhood, didn’t finish high school, and started using drugs at a young age, Jones wrote. In a mental health hospital he was diagnosed with PTSD, anxiety and depression, but only took his medication during crystal meth withdrawal.
“Mr. Easterbrook’s father made many attempts to take him to appointments to address his mental health issues. He would not participate or would not follow through,” the judge wrote.
In one visit from a probation officer, “he showed signs of mental distress. He appeared to be engaging in conversation with people who were not present.”
In 2018, Easterbrook had a conviction of pointing a firearm, assault and uttering a threat, and years later, in 2022, was convicted of assaulting a peace officer.
Easterbrook pleaded guilty to assault. He was sentenced in 2022 but the decision was posted publicly recently.
He still believes he knew Greco, and lashed out because he believed Greco “ratted” on him – even though none of that is true, Jones wrote.
Easterbrook’s family told the judge they had had “enough” of trying to care for him, Jones wrote.
“His prior history of non-compliance with treatment options for mental health or substance abuse is very troubling. His stated intention to continue to use drugs upon his release from custody raises the risk of him re-offending considerably,” Jones said. Easterbrook’s sentence will include an additional three year probation order.
A graphic of Justice Brock Jones’ decision. (CTV News Toronto)
After an outcry about transit safety, Toronto police boosted their presence onboard the TTC. Their overtime deployments ended on March 13 – though officials have said there are still regular patrols.
Shelagh Pizey-Allen of advocacy group TTCriders said the ruling is more evidence that safety on the TTC has less to do with the transit system itself.
“What’s happening is the systems outside the TTC are failing to take care of people,” she said, calling for staff to engage people at stations and get the help they need.
Greco still has a scar on his neck from the attack. He said he’s not sure more police on transit would help — given the attack seemed to come out of nowhere.
But he said hearing Easterbrook’s back story pushes him to focus on the root causes of the violence and prevent others from being victims.
“We can’t direct our anger and hatred to the attacker. We have to ask why is our system permitting people to be in these situations that leads to these attacks?” he said.
Greco said he is considering reaching out directly to Easterbrook. He said he feels strongly for people who have been killed in attacks on transit, including 16-year-old Gabriel Magalhaes, who died on the Keele Station platform in the city’s west end recently.
“My family was devastated. I can only imagine what they’re going through. I wish they were as lucky as I was,” he said.