Inmate reportedly died of heart attack after use of pepper spray, spit hood in Montreal jail

Since the young man's death, a manager and a prison guard at Montreal's Bordeaux jail have been suspended pending the results of several investigations, including from the provincial police (SQ) and the coroner's office.  (Daniel Thomas/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Since the young man's death, a manager and a prison guard at Montreal's Bordeaux jail have been suspended pending the results of several investigations, including from the provincial police (SQ) and the coroner's office. (Daniel Thomas/Radio-Canada - image credit)

An unlawfully detained inmate who died after a physical altercation in a Montreal jail on Christmas Eve suffered a heart attack after guards fitted his head with a spit hood and pepper-sprayed him three times, according to confidential documents obtained by Radio-Canada.

The documents reveal details about the intervention in Montreal's Bordeaux jail that led to the death of 21-year-old Nicous D'Andre Spring.

Around 11:30 a.m. on Dec. 24, Spring was reportedly involved in a fight with other inmates in a unit of the detention centre where he had recently been admitted, after spending time in isolation.

Detained four days earlier after being charged with assault on a peace officer, possession of a weapon for dangerous purposes and criminal harassment, he refused to shower.

Radio-Canada sources close to the case say several inmates had complained about Spring's body odour and insulted him. Quickly, a code was reportedly issued over the radio to intervene in a fight between several people.

According to the documents, witnesses identified Spring as the instigator of the fight.

Officers were able to return all of the inmates to their cells, except for Spring, the documents say, who physically resisted. He reportedly attempted to headbutt the guards and insulted them while spitting.

At that point, a spit hood — a restraining device made of mesh that is placed over a detainee's face to prevent them from spitting or biting — was put over Spring's head. A supervisor then ordered one of the guards to use pepper spray to subdue him, the documents say.

Spring reportedly became even more aggressive. Another guard then grabbed the pepper spray from his colleague, "put some on his gloves and smeared it directly" on Spring's face.

In total, the intervention to subdue Spring involved nine correctional officers, the documents say.

Spring believed to be faking condition

Guards were able to transfer the inmate to a holding area and made several attempts to perform a decontamination shower, but Spring — whose hands were cuffed behind his back — is said to have prevented them from completely closing the door.

The officers then resorted to pepper-spraying him once more. According to the documents, corrections officers asked Spring to "co-operate and get up," but his body was limp.

A supervisor ordered the officers to transport Spring to his cell as the team believed he was faking his condition, the documents say.

Once there, officers indicated Spring was in urgent respiratory distress and had no pulse. Within minutes, nurses from the local health authority are said to have arrived on scene and performed CPR and used a defibrillator to try and resuscitate him.

Yk Lyrical/Facebook
Yk Lyrical/Facebook

Paramedics reportedly arrived in the inmate's cell at approximately 12:20 p.m. and transported him to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

According to the initial findings of the investigators, Spring died of cardiac arrest.

Michael Arruda, a former Montreal police officer and specialist in crisis interventions, has said he is "very concerned" that guards used a spit hood and pepper spray at the same time. The spray creates a burning feeling, but if it enters the mouth, it can create a choking sensation, he said.

"I'm very concerned because there are two different tools for two different intervention strategies that are not supposed to be used together," Arruda said in a recent interview.

Eric Sutton, a criminal defence lawyer who's also calling for a public inquiry into the case, said the information presented might not be the whole picture.

"There might be a a very different perspective from other inmates who may have seen how this started and what transpired," he said. "And strangely, we have no suggestion that anyone has been interviewed but the prison staff, and that's not good enough."

Quebec's coroner's office will have to rule on the circumstances surrounding the death.

Calls for public inquiry, release of video 

On Jan. 7, the Red Coalition, a Montreal-based anti-racism group, called for a public inquiry on behalf of Spring's family.

At the time of the altercation, Spring was illegally detained. A judge had ordered his release on Dec. 23, but he and two other inmates were still in custody at the detention centre a day later.

Spring, the group said, was also receiving support with mental health issues at the time of his death.

Since the altercation, a manager and a prison guard have been suspended pending the results of several investigations, including from the provincial police (SQ) and the coroner's office.

Alain Babineau, director of racial profiling for the Red Coalition, has called for Spring's death to be examined through the lens of systemic racism.

Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press
Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

The group made several other demands, including the release of any relevant detention centre footage to the family, if it exists, a public coroner's inquiry, an independent autopsy and the creation of a citizens' committee to oversee the Quebec correctional system.

The community no longer trusts the institutions, Babineau said at a news conference over the weekend.

According to the Red Coalition, the death of the young Black man is further evidence of systemic racism in Quebec.

In addition to the SQ and coroner's office, the Ministry of Public Security has said it will conduct an administrative investigation into the events that occurred, "including, in particular, the illegal detentions."

Over the weekend, the ministry also said it not ruling out any future options, including a public inquiry, but it said it must wait for the results of the SQ's criminal investigation.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.