Landlord gets probation for chainsaw threat against tenants

The home at 67 Front Street owned by John W. Sensabaugh. — Photo by Steve Myrick

An Oak Bluffs landlord who admitted in court that he held a revving chainsaw over the heads of his tenants was sentenced to three years probation, after pleading guilty to assault with a dangerous weapon. He was ordered to pay restitution to five of the foreign students who rented rooms from him.

In Edgartown District Court Thursday, August 29, Presiding Justice H. Gregory Williams sentenced John W. Sensabaugh, 52, to a two-year term in the Dukes County House of Correction, but suspended all of the jail sentence for probation with strict conditions. Among the conditions are that Mr. Sensabaugh remain alcohol free, subject to random screenings, undergo a mental health evaluation, and stay away from eight of his former tenants. He must also return a total of $1,590 in rent payments to five of the tenants, and pay $65 per month in probation supervision fees. If he fails to comply with the conditions of probation, he could be sent to jail to serve his term.

Police responded to a house at 67 Front Street owned by Mr. Sensabaugh on June 18, at about 6 am, after receiving multiple calls from tenants. According to the police report, Mr. Sensabaugh first began banging into the house with a Bobcat excavator, then entered a basement room with the chainsaw, in retaliation for the tenants waking him up the evening before.

Cape and Island assistant district attorney Laura Marshard asked the court to impose a 2.5-year jail sentence with six months to be served, followed by two years of probation. Five of the victims, all foreign students here on student visas, wrote victim impact statements that Ms. Marshard submitted to the court.

“Each of the impact statements refers to the fear and anxiety they experienced then and after this incident,” Ms. Marshard said. “What they experienced was so completely beyond their wildest imagination.”

Defense attorney Ryan Searle asked the judge to impose a suspended sentence. She said her client was very remorseful.

“Mr. Sensabaugh did not intend to hurt anybody,” Ms. Searle said. “He is accepting responsibility and admitting guilt.”

The Oak Bluffs board of health is investigating whether Mr. Sensabaugh broke any health regulations. According to the police report, at least 12 tenants, in addition to Mr. Sensabaugh, lived in the four bedroom house.

In two separate, previous incidents, Mr. Sensabaugh was charged with assault in disputes with tenants, but in both cases, after extensive court proceedings, prosecutors reluctantly asked that charges be dismissed, because all of the tenants had returned to their home countries, and were unable or unwilling to testify in court.