Stricter rules for inmate supervision needed after prison kitchen stabbing: inquest

Stricter rules for inmate supervision needed after prison kitchen stabbing: inquest

An inquest into the death of a man who was stabbed behind bars has recommended a Manitoba-based prison improve its inmate-supervision rules in the facility's kitchen.

Cosmo Damiano Valente, 69, was stabbed in the abdomen while working in the facility's kitchen in June 12, 2012. He had a number of surgeries but died in hospital on June 25.

Valente was serving a six-year sentence at Stony Mountain Institution for two counts of counselling to commit murder.

Byron Jacobs, who was 24 at the time of the stabbing, pleaded guilty and was charged with second-degree murder in Valente's death.

Provincial court Judge Mary Kate Harvie, who was in charge of reviewing the evidence, raised concerns about Stony Mountain Institution's staffing and supervision in the facility's kitchen and inmate access to knives.

RCMP interviewed inmates who were in the kitchen during the incident. Although none admitted to seeing what happened, one inmate said before the stabbing, Jacobs planned to "punch out" Valente because he had called him a derogatory name, the inquest report says.

"Other inmates told police that they heard someone yell 'stabbed' but claimed not to have seen what had actually occurred," the inquest reads, and an investigation found the knife in the kitchen.

Prison staff testified they weren't aware of any problems between the men before the stabbing, and the subsequent investigation found no proof of any prior issues either.

Informal kitchen supervision rules

John Potorieko, a 22-year employee and chief of food and kitchen services at the federal penitentiary, testified that inmates have used kitchen knives to harm themselves in the past but no one had ever turned a blade on another inmate.

Potorieko testified at the hearing that three or four staff should've been supervising inmates that day in 2012, but there was only one present in the kitchen at the time of the stabbing.

Stony Mountain has no standing enforcement rule on the ratio of staff to inmates in the kitchen, Potorieko said, but staff had an understanding that they "'would never have a person by themselves' with the inmates as 'they can't watch everything and supervise the inmates.'"

Judge Harvie wrote in the inquest report that it isn't clear whether having more staff in the kitchen area would have prevented the stabbing, but "it stands to reason that the presence of the [staff] has, generally speaking, a deterrent effect on the behaviour of the inmates."

A similar conclusion was reached regarding the absence of security cameras in the kitchen area at the time. Cameras are expected to be installed as part of future renovations.

Harvie recommended Stony Mountain create written policy and a standing order that dictates the minimum number of prison staff that should be present in the kitchen and specific ratios of staff to inmates in the kitchen.

No changes to knife signouts

Stony Mountain had an order in place meant to control inmate access to knives and other items in the kitchen at the time of the stabbing.

The knife used to kill Valente was signed out appropriately, but not to Jacobs, the inquest report says. It isn't clear how Jacobs got his hands on the knife, but investigators believe he may have grabbed it when the inmate who signed it out left it on the counter. The inquest found no evidence the inmate worked with Jacobs to get him the knife.

Prison officials considered adding tethers to kitchen knives but ultimately decided against it, citing concerns the tethers could also be used to hurt inmates. Judge Harvie didn't recommend any changes to the way kitchen utensils are signed out to inmates and made no other recommendations.

Apart from the recommendations about the number of guards supervising inmates in the kitchen, the inquest ultimately sided with the previous criminal investigation's findings and ruled the death of Valente was a homicide.

"The death of Mr. Cosmo Valente was a tragic event," Harvie wrote in the conclusion of the inquest report. "He died as a result of the criminal act of another inmate."