ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — The family of a 33-year-old man whose 2019 death in a Newfoundland jail has led to charges against nine correctional officers is suing the provincial government.
Jonathan Henoche's grandmother and three siblings allege in a statement of claim filed Nov. 5 in provincial Supreme Court that the province failed in its duty to protect and care for him, among other allegations.
"The (defendant's) obligation included the duty to take reasonable steps to protect vulnerable and at-risk inmates," the statement says. "Mr. Henoche was one of those vulnerable and at-risk inmates."
Henoche died on Nov. 6, 2019, at Her Majesty's Penitentiary in St. John's, where he had been awaiting trial for the first-degree murder of 88-year-old Regula Schule in Labrador.
His death was ruled a homicide by the province's chief medical examiner and led to charges last December against 10 of the jail's correctional officers. Charges were subsequently dropped against one officer during a preliminary inquiry in August to determine whether the case will go to trial. The inquiry is scheduled to resume Dec. 17.
Six correctional officers are still charged with criminal negligence causing death, two officers are charged with manslaughter and one faces charges of manslaughter and failure to provide necessities of life.
In the suit filed Nov. 5, Henoche's family claims he had fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and compulsion issues, especially in relation to women. They allege management at Her Majesty's Penitentiary had rules in place preventing him from being alone with a woman.
"This was widely known, or should have been widely known, to all corrections officers and other staff," says the statement of claim, which contains allegations that have not been proven in court. The provincial Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Henoche's family claims that contrary to those rules, he had contact with a lone female guard on Nov. 6, 2019. The family says Henoche told her he liked her pen, asked if he could have it and reached out for it but did not take it.
Shortly after the incident, the woman and another officer approached Henoche and assaulted him, the family alleges. When the assault began, the officers initiated a code grey, which tells prison staff that an officer is involved in an assault, the statement says.
Many people responded to the alert to "support" the two officers involved in the assault, the suit alleges, adding that Henoche was eventually "escorted" out of the area and died later that day.
It alleges authorities failed to provide "potential lifesaving medical treatment" after Henoche was subdued and lay on the floor of a cell, shackled and handcuffed with his hands behind his back and a hood over his head. Staff "knew or ought to have known that Mr. Henoche was in stress which would lead up to his death," it says.
The two officers who originally approached Henoche are not among those facing charges, though the suit alleges the decision to send them to "confront" Henoche "created the situation which generated the subsequent incident and events that resulted in Mr. Henoche’s homicide."
The suit claims there is insufficient training or policy at the jail around use of force against inmates and caring for inmates who've been hurt.
Damages sought include the cost of Henoche's funeral and burial, as well as expenses related to the raising of his two children. The family is represented by St. John's lawyer Bob Buckingham.
Henoche is one of at least six Newfoundland and Labrador inmates to die in provincial custody since 2017.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 19, 2021.
The Canadian Press