Prison death could have national impact
Hines family vows to continue to keep up the pressure
The family of Matthew Ryan Hines is taking some comfort in knowing his death while in a federal prison will have a national impact on how correctional officers apply force when dealing with inmates.
“This should open their eyes so they don’t do it to another human being,” said Helen MacLeod, Hines sister.
The comment came a day after a scathing report slammed the use of excessive force by corrections officers at Dorchester Penitentiary, in New Brunswick, in dealing with Hines on May 26, 2015. Hines pronounced dead in Moncton hospital shortly after midnight on May 27. He was 33.
The report, by Ivan Zinger of the office of the correctional investigator, condemned how the correctional service handled the situation and offered 10 recommendations for improvement.
“The lessons learned from Matthew’s death should be shared broadly across the service. Nearly everything that could have gone wrong in a use of force response went wrong,” said Zinger, in his report.
“I conclude that Matthew’s death in federal custody was preventable. It was proximate to multiple uses of inappropriate force,” concluded Zinger.
The cause of death was determined to be acute asphyxia (a severe deficient supply of oxygen to the body) due to extensive pulmonary edema (excess fluid in the lungs) after being pepper-sprayed. Video shows corrections officers punching and kneeing Hines in the torso, jaw and upper body. The report notes that Hines was sprayed directly in the face with pepper spray multiple times despite showing no signs of aggression.
He was sentenced in Sydney in 2010 to serve a five-year term on charges including bank robbery. He was to be released in October 2015.
MacLeod said while the family takes some small comfort in knowing that her brother’s death could prevent other families from experiencing such pain, her family remains angry about how they were treated by corrections officials and plans on keeping the pressure up to ensure all of Zinger’s recommendations are enacted.
“We want correctional officers to receive better training, especially when it comes to dealing with inmates with mental health issues,” said MacLeod.
Hines entered the federal system with a pre-existing history of psychotic symptoms/episodes, said Zinger in his report.
During his sentence, he was twice admitted to a psychiatric facility and twice taken to hospital for ongoing psychosis and seizures.
“I cannot help but to think that there were some serious and significant gaps in information-sharing and communication between clinical and front-line staff,” said Zinger.
“As Matthew’s mental and physical health deteriorated following the initial use of force, front-line staff should have had the experience, insight, knowledge and training to have responded to his needs and behaviour in a life-preserving manner,” wrote Zinger.
“After I first read report,” said MacLeod, “I was devastated and heartbroken. No human should be treated like that.”
She said while it helps to have the truth finally come out, it brings the death of her brother back to square one, from where she and the family must again begin the process of healing.
“For 13 months, we thought it was a seizure,” said MacLeod, noting prison officials deliberately covered up what happened, which added insult to injury for the family.
“It is important the family know the truth. They needed to know and needed to know from the start,” said Hines family lawyer Julie Kirkpatrick.
Zinger was critical of corrections for failing to share information with the family and leading them to believe Hines died as a result of a seizure.
As to where the family found its strength to keep on demanding answers, MacLeod singles out her mother, Marg Hines.
“She really spoiled Matthew and kept saying she needed to know the truth. She just kept calling everyone from the warden to the coroner,” said MacLeod, adding the experience has left her angry in knowing that she was lied to for more than a year.
In his report, Zinger also noted that the correctional service continues to investigate itself in such incidents.
MacLeod said the time has come for the service to no longer have such authority, noting the example in her brother’s case was a coverup.
MacLeod said the family will follow their mother’s example and continue to keep the pressure on federal officials to enact significant change.
She said the family will be forever grateful to Zinger for his thoroughness and honesty in bringing the case into the public spotlight.