Guard who left prisoner crying for help may have been motivated by 'revenge,' police watchdog says

·5 min read
A file photo shows a jail cell. B.C.'s police watchdog is raising concerns about the conduct of a civilian jail guard in the Prince George RCMP detachment lockup.  (Getty Images - image credit)
A file photo shows a jail cell. B.C.'s police watchdog is raising concerns about the conduct of a civilian jail guard in the Prince George RCMP detachment lockup. (Getty Images - image credit)

A jail guard who allegedly ignored the screams of a man for approximately eight hours while he was held overnight in a Prince George RCMP detachment cell with a fractured hip won't face criminal charges.

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. (IIO) says that despite its concerns that the guard's conduct potentially amounted to torture, it doesn't have the jurisdiction to suggest charges, and the case had to be referred to RCMP.

The agency describes the guard as having a "significant antipathy" toward prisoners, and quotes one of her supervisors saying she described them as "scumbags" who "all deserve it," seemingly motivated by "revenge."

In a written decision released Wednesday, the IIO said Mounties have now completed their investigation and aren't recommending charges against the civilian jail guard to Crown counsel.

The decision said the failure of jail guards to provide vital medical care to people in their custody is a criminal offence, as is torture.

"The [Criminal] Code ... makes 'torture' a criminal offence," states the report, which defines torture as "intentional infliction by an official of severe pain or suffering on a person for ... punishing or intimidating that person."

The IIO's chief civilian director, Ronald MacDonald, told CBC News that "the situation was potentially that the jail guard had committed that offence of torture."

But he explained that despite a "body of evidence to conclude the guard may have committed a crime," the IIO doesn't have the power to recommend charges against her because she is a civilian employee of the city of Prince George and not a police officer.

"We do have good evidence that [the man] was crying out in pain throughout the night and that the guard was aware of the pain, but really took no steps as far as we can determine, no useful steps to ensure that he received medical attention through the night," MacDonald said.

"And that's what was troubling."

Guard was 'antagonistic' to prisoners

In an email to CBC News, a spokesperson for the City of Prince George, which employs civilian jail guards, said the city "does not publicly comment on personnel matters."

In a statement, Prince George RCMP said its own investigation identified "clearly unacceptable behaviour, but did not find sufficient evidence to substantiate recommending criminal charges."

The RCMP went on to say the IIO investigation began in May 2019, but the police watchdog did not notify Mounties of the civilian guard's alleged misconduct until after the investigation had ended in March 2021.

RCMP say the guard was actually suspended two months before that because of an unrelated incident, and then barred from employment in support of RCMP operations

The detachment says it has put in additional oversight in cell block operations and civilian guard supervision.

The civilian jail guard's conduct came to light during an IIO investigation into the actions of the RCMP officers who arrested the man on May 11, 2019.

In 2021, the IIO cleared the police officers of wrongdoing in that arrest.

During the course of their investigation, IIO investigators interviewed the jail guard who was on duty when the detainee was brought into detachment cells in downtown Prince George.

According to the IIO decision, the guard had written in a logbook that the man complained of a broken leg, but she told investigators that the man always made a lot of noise.

"He's a very obnoxious drunk person. I like to say he's ugly inside and out," she told investigators.

Andrew Kurjata/CBC
Andrew Kurjata/CBC

She said that if prisoners complain of injuries, "they have to prove it. Everybody lies, that's my baseline."

Video taken from the RCMP detachment cells showed the detainee was unable to bear weight, the decision says. He was left lying on the floor, complaining of "great pain" and asking for a doctor.

A second man who spent the night in the same cell told the IIO that the man "was like a baby, screaming in pain" throughout the night, but no one came to check on him.

When the second man called out for help, he said he was told by a guard to "keep the noise down."

A second civilian jail guard, who began her shift the next morning, told the IIO that police should have been called earlier to help the man.

A supervisor told investigators that the first guard's attitude about detainees was, "They're scum bags, they all deserve it.'"

The IIO concluded the evidence showed the first guard's attitude toward prisoners was "antagonistic" and motivated by "revenge of some sort."

Arrested man had broken hip

At about 5 a.m. the next morning after a shift change, two RCMP officers did take the detainee to hospital.

Doctors diagnosed a hip fracture that could have caused life-threatening bleeding.

Medical staff told the IIO that the man's pain would have been "excruciating," and that he should have been hospitalized immediately to immobilize his hip and receive pain medication.

CBC/Betsy Trumpener
CBC/Betsy Trumpener

The man was initially stopped by a police officer on May 11, 2019 for  "odd behaviour" and swerving in and out of traffic on his bicycle without a helmet, according to the IIO decision.

An RCMP officer told the IIO that the she tried to arrest the man for intoxication but he rode away. She pursued him in a police car with lights flashing and called for back up.

The man was later confronted outside a relative's home by several officers, who forced him to the ground using a "hip toss," according to the IIO.

RCMP told the IIO that the man was aggressive, non-compliant, and was carrying spent shotgun shells and several "home made" weapons.

A video of the police takedown filmed by a neighbour showed the man screaming in pain and unable to walk.

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