In­mate death ‘very dis­turb­ing,’ min­is­ter says

The Prince George Citizen - - Local - Kim BOLAN

Pub­lic Safety Min­is­ter Mike Farn­worth called the death of in­mate Alex Joseph in the back of a B.C. Cor­rec­tions van last month “very dis­turb­ing” and said he hopes three sep­a­rate in­ves­ti­ga­tions now un­der­way will get to the bot­tom of what hap­pened.

“Of course, it is very dis­turb­ing when a sit­u­a­tion like this hap­pens, be­cause it shouldn’t hap­pen,” Farn­worth said. “That’s why these in­ves­ti­ga­tions are cur­rently un­der­way and we are go­ing to find out what hap­pened. Peo­ple de­serve an­swers and the fam­ily mem­bers de­serve an­swers.”

Farn­worth said B.C. Cor­rec­tions is in­ves­ti­gat­ing Joseph’s death, which hap­pened Oct. 4 on the side of the road north of 100 Mile House after his fel­low in­mates tried for more than an hour to get the guards’ at­ten­tion.

The RCMP is also in­ves­ti­gat­ing the death, Farn­worth said, as is the B.C. Coroners Ser­vice.

Three of the other in­mates in the back of the van told Post­media that they were shout­ing and bang­ing on the walls after Joseph, 36, of Fort St. James, passed out and slumped onto the floor. But the cor­rec­tional of­fi­cers driv­ing the van didn’t check on Joseph un­til it was too late, they said.

The in­mates also said they be­lieved Joseph over­dosed. He was snor­ing at first after fall­ing to the ground, but then went silent and be­gan to turn blue.

They all said they were in­vol­un­tar­ily trans­ferred to the Lower Main­land, far away from fam­ily mem­bers, be­cause of a staff short­age at the Prince Ge­orge fa­cil­ity.

Two of them said that po­lice wear­ing tac­ti­cal gear forcibly hauled them from their Prince Ge­orge cells after they in­di­cated they didn’t want to be trans­ferred.

B.C. Cor­rec­tions would not say why the in­mates were trans­ferred, but only that such moves hap­pen “on an as-needed ba­sis.”

Shelly Bazuik, a le­gal advocate with Prison­ers’ Le­gal Ser­vices, said the in­vol­un­tary trans­fers can take in­mates away from sup­port net­works.

“These in­vol­un­tary trans­fers have had all kinds of heartwrench­ing and nega­tive im­pacts on a prison pop­u­la­tion that is pre­dom­i­nantly Indigenous,” Bazuik said, speak­ing gen­er­ally.

Joseph was a mem­ber of the Beaver clan in the Nak’azdli Na­tion, near Fort St. James.

He had bat­tled ad­dic­tion for years and been in and out of jail. At the time of his death, he was in pre­trial cus­tody on a num­ber of charges, in­clud­ing as­sault caus­ing bod­ily harm and ut­ter­ing threats.

The in­mates in­ter­viewed said they trav­elled in tiny com­part­ments within the B.C. Cor­rec­tions van, wear­ing shack­les and hand­cuffs and sit­ting on metal benches with­out seat belts.

The pro­vin­cial de­part­ment said in a state­ment that its “ve­hi­cles are not equipped with seat belts, as they can be used as a weapon against staff, other in­mates or to harm them­selves.”

Farn­worth said what hap­pened to Joseph “is a very tragic story.”

“I do know that the of­fi­cers are all trained in nalox­one,” he said.

Asked how they could use the life-sav­ing kits if they didn’t stop to in­ves­ti­gate why Joseph was in med­i­cal dis­tress, Farn­worth said: “That’s why I want to see those in­ves­ti­ga­tions and find out ex­actly what hap­pened.”

He said the govern­ment will take nec­es­sary ac­tion once the re­sults of the in­ves­ti­ga­tions are known.

“That’s what these in­ves­ti­ga­tions have to get to the bot­tom of. What hap­pened and why did it hap­pen? And from there, we can go, ‘OK, how can we make sure that this doesn’t hap­pen again?’”

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