A Manitoba judge has recommended corrections staff increase their efforts to prevent drugs from being smuggled into jails as well as step up well-being checks and other safety procedures.
Judge John Combs made the recommendations following an inquest into the death of 39-year-old Jean Paul Beaumont, a high-ranking motorcycle gang member found dead in his cell at Brandon Correctional Centre.
Beaumont had been a member of the Zig Zag Crew, a so-called feeder group for the Hells Angels, where he earned the reputation of being a "violent enforcer intimately involved in the Winnipeg drug scene … feared by drug dealers and others involved in the distribution of illegal drugs," Combs summarized in his report released Friday.
His behaviour became so unpredictable, the report said, that he was kicked out of the Hells Angels/Zig Zag program and joined a rival motorcycle gang known as Rock Machine, where he emerged as the as the Sergeant in Arms responsible for enforcement and discipline.
Beaumont was arrested and transferred to Brandon Correctional Centre where a range specifically designated for Rock Machine members or associates had been established.
On Oct. 14, 2012, Beaumont was found dead in his bunk. A toxicology report concluded the cause of death was a morphine overdose.
Beaumont’s sister, Suzanne Beaumont — who participated in the inquest —brought forward an audio tape between two individuals at a party where one individual suggested Beaumont was killed by his fellow gang members in jail.
While the evidence before the court is that Beaumont’s death was caused by an overdose, Combs said questions surrounding the circumstances of his death are outstanding.
"An assessment needs to be done as to whether or not there is evidence which would lead to either a conclusion or a suspicion that (Beaumont’s) death involved foul play," Combs wrote.
Combs called for policies to be improved surrounding escorting inmates on medical or community visits, writing that inmates should not be told when or where they are going for medical or community visits.
Two days before Beaumont’s death, two of his cellmates had arranged for a drug drop after a corrections officer told them about a doctor's appointment. They had enough time to arrange for an accomplice to leave drugs in a hospital bathroom at the Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg.
"The arrangements included specifics as to where and when the doctor’s appointment was to take place and the location of the bathroom close by," Combs wrote. "The drugs were to be placed in kinder eggs and attached to the blind side of the toilet tank … they were described as ‘oxies’ and were 20 in number. It is assumed that the drugs received included the morphine pills that (Beaumont) allegedly consumed just prior to his death."
Combs also recommended officers escorting inmates in the community should not allow them to use the most obvious washrooms, suggesting one on a different floor or in another part of the building should be used instead.
Beaumont’s cellmate was also not strip searched when he returned to the jail, Combs noted, due to the admissions area of the jail being busy when they returned.
Escort officers need to be reminded about strip searches of all inmates returning to the institution, Combs said, which has apparently been done.
Corrections has introduced body scanners at some institutions, the report noted, which Combs said should be installed anywhere inmates serving sentences are kept.
Drugs were also being brought into the Brandon jail in courier packages which weren't being opened in advance by guards. Since Beaumont's death, the policy around courier mail has changed.
Combs also recommended more thorough welfare checks on inmates by corrections officers on their rounds and exploring the option of panic alarms in individual cells — two recommendations Suzanne Beaumont put forward.
Suzanne told The Brandon Sun she was happy to see Combs advanced her recommendations in the report.
While conducting their rounds, corrections officers should be going to the window of each cell and ensuring each inmate is accounted for and there is no sign of anything wrong.
Combs wrote the evening count should include some sort of engagement between the corrections officer and inmates to ensure they are alive and well.
Suzanne said she wonders if her brother’s life would have been saved had an officer done that.
"If a corrections officer had said, ‘hey JP,’ he wouldn’t have been able to answer and that would have flagged him," Suzanne said. "He might have been already dead then … he might have still been alive, but we’ll never know."
As it stands now, when inmates are locked in their cells, they have no access to the panic alarm, Suzanne said and Combs wrote in the report. In an emergency, the only way an inmate can get the attention of the officers is to yell or bang on the door.
"If you have a panic button in a cell, you’re at least showing the inmates and the public that the inmate’s well-being is important," Suzanne said.
A spokesperson for the province said Manitoba Justice conducted an internal review of circumstances leading up to Beaumont’s death and have implemented changes that are referenced in the inquest report.
"Manitoba Justice takes the safety and health of accused individuals in custody very seriously and will review all recommendations in detail," the spokesperson said.
After receiving the final report, Suzanne said she felt relief that it was finally over.
Suzanne would have liked for the court to have accepted the witnesses she suggested and heard her evidence, she said, and she also wished there was funding available for families like her so she wasn’t left in debt due to the travelling and preparation involved in the inquest.
However, Suzanne said she was proud of herself for doing it, and her brother would have been proud of her, too.
"It was bigger than me, really, I needed to experience this and wanted to be his voice," Suzanne said. "Now JP can rest in peace, and I can fully live in peace knowing I did the best that I could for him. I loved him in life, I loved him in death, I stood by him in life, I stood by him in death, I had his back in life and I had his back in death."
Suzanne said she hopes the recommendations will make a difference for inmates going forward.
"Inmates are just human beings. They might have violent behaviours and are who they are, but at the end of the day they’re human beings. As a society we have to remember that, and that we’re dealing with people who have hearts and heads, they have family members, they’re someone’s son, daughter, they have children of their own.
"I couldn’t save JP but there’s a lot of inmates in Manitoba, and their situation hasn’t changed. If we can take JP’s situation and very sincerely learn from it … If I can even save one life, I would call that a success."
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