Saint John jail guards used 'excessive force' against inmate, judge rules

Photos taken of Scott Morrison immediately after an altercation with Saint John jail guards shows him with cuts and bruises to his face. (Fredericton provincial court - image credit)
Photos taken of Scott Morrison immediately after an altercation with Saint John jail guards shows him with cuts and bruises to his face. (Fredericton provincial court - image credit)

A New Brunswick provincial court judge has decided to lessen the sentence of a Fredericton man convicted of drug trafficking due to a jailhouse beating he suffered at the hands of guards while on remand earlier this year.

Judge Cameron Gunn, in his decision issued Dec. 22, said Scott Morrison deserved to have his sentence reduced by four months in light of evidence presented in court showing guards punching him after tackling him to the floor inside the Saint John Regional Correctional Centre on Sept. 27.

"The evidence that the strikes by the guard are excessive is best represented by the knuckles of the guard and the pictures of Mr. Morrison," Gunn wrote.

"Both display injuries. The force used was excessive."

Morrison was charged with eight drug trafficking offences in June 2021 in Fredericton, and in October, Gunn found him guilty on all charges.

In a bid to have his sentence lessened, Morrison applied to have evidence shown in court, which he alleged showed guards at the Saint John jail assaulting him.

That evidence included CCTV and handheld video camera footage, which Morrison argued proved his Charter rights had been violated, thus justifying a shortened sentence.

WATCH | Video of assault shown in court. Caution: This video contains graphic content

In response, the Office of the Attorney General of New Brunswick filed a separate application to block the video and photos from being seen by anyone other than the judge, arguing that showing them would compromise security at the jail and violate the privacy of other inmates visible in the footage.

In late November, Gunn ruled that the province's arguments for sealing that evidence didn't outweigh the open court principle, and allowed it to be shown in court and shared with the public.

In his sentencing decision, Gunn said the force used by the guards wasn't necessary, and referred to the incident as an "assault."

Referring to the CCTV video footage, Gunn said Morrison can be seen being escorted back to his cell, and once there, was pushed in by one of the guards.

Morrison resisted the push, and from there a struggle ensued with the two guards, and Morrison was brought down to the floor and struck three times by one of the guards.

Gunn said footage from the handheld camera then shows a number of other guards showing up to assist the first two.

He said several guards can be seen on top of Morrison, and one can be seen striking Morrison with a closed fist and ordering him to stop resisting even as Morrison was lying on the ground with his hands behind his back.

Fredericton provincial court
Fredericton provincial court

"I need not, in my view, make any determination of where Mr. Morrison's hands were or whether he was resisting. This is so, as even if he was resisting, the actions of that specific corrections officer were clearly excessive," Gunn wrote.

"Mr. Morrison was being held or sat upon by a number of guards. No other inmates were interfering. There was no evidence presented to suggest that this action was otherwise necessary."

Gunn noted Morrison's 11 prior drug convictions as an aggravating factor in his sentencing decision.

But he also noted that Morrison is a member of Sitansisk First Nation, and that the effects he's suffered from loss of cultural connection, personal substance abuse, overt racism and family breakdown must be considered as per previous rulings by the Supreme Court of Canada.

Gunn sentenced Morrison to 29 months in jail after applying 16 months in remand credit, plus the four-month reduction for his jailhouse assault.

Sheldon Currie, the province's chief superintendent of correctional services, testified in November about what the videos showed, but didn't tell the court whether any guards were disciplined or charged in connection with the incident.

Department of Justice and Public Safety spokesperson Judy Désalliers did not directly answer questions asked by CBC News about whether any guards were disciplined over the incident.

"Every incident of use of force is reported and reviewed thoroughly by the Department of Justice and Public Safety," she said in an email.