Charges dismissed against nine N.L. correctional officers in relation to inmate death

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ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — A Newfoundland and Labrador judge dismissed charges Friday against nine correctional officers in connection with the death of an inmate at a provincial jail in St. John's.

Judge Pamela Goulding delivered her decision in provincial court after a preliminary inquiry that began in August to determine whether the officers would stand trial.

Her decision was highly critical of the Crown prosecutors, noting they provided neither expert witnesses nor final submissions. The case as presented did not justify a trial, and ordering one would "elevate the grave prospect of wrongful conviction," Goulding wrote in her decision.

"It is most unfortunate that the Crown attorneys in this case refused to provide any assistance to the Court as to the legal and factual basis of the prosecution which they chose to advance to conclusion by adjudication," she added.

Defence lawyer Rosellen Sullivan said the Crown could revive the case through a direct indictment, sending it straight to trial. She noted that Goulding had disallowed key medical evidence about the cause of the inmate's death, and the Crown could decide to proceed in hopes that evidence would be allowed.

Jonathan Henoche was 33 when he died at Her Majesty's Penitentiary in St. John's on Nov. 6, 2019. He was awaiting a first-degree murder trial for the death of 88-year-old Regula Schule of Labrador.

Henoche's death was ruled a homicide and last December, after a lengthy investigation, 10 correctional officers were charged in connection with his death. Jason Anthony, David Constantine and Jeff Thistle were accused of manslaughter, with Thistle also facing a charge of failure to provide the necessaries of life. Chris Coady, Stefan Cumby, Daniel Dalton, Scott Dwyer, Jenine Rickert, Riley Ricks and Lori Williams were each charged with criminal negligence causing death.

The Crown withdrew the charge against Cumby in late August, a few weeks after the preliminary hearing began.

Goulding said she saw no evidence that Anthony, Constantine or Thistle used excessive force or failed to prevent harm to Henoche, nor did it appear they caused his death.

Similarly, she said there was no evidence to support the criminal negligence charges against Coady, Dalton, Rickert, Rick and Williams.

Goulding said her decision drew from video footage from the jail, though she noted there was no sound to accompany it.

She said a fight broke out between Henoche and two guards on Nov. 6, 2019. The guards triggered a "code grey" indicating they needed help, and correctional officers streamed into Henoche's cell. He was combative, but the officers ultimately strip-searched him — as is "institutional policy or practice," the judge noted — and placed him in a segregation cell. Correctional officers put leg shackles and a spit hood on him and left, Goulding wrote.

He was alone for three minutes and 45 seconds before an officer noticed he wasn't moving, she said. That officer called for medical help, but they could not resuscitate Henoche, she wrote.

The judge wrote the guards were "orderly and calm" throughout the ordeal.

"It cannot be said that their actions were a marked and substantial departure from the standard care of a reasonably prudent correctional officer in the circumstances," she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 17, 2021.

Sarah Smellie, The Canadian Press

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