A federal prison guard failed to capture crucial video footage that could have shown whether colleagues attacked a prisoner without provocation, an independent investigation has found. (DanHenson1/Getty Images/iStockphoto)
The probe by the prison ombudsman’s office also found the guards at Kent Institution in Agassiz, B.C., violated procedures when they strip-searched Timothy (Mitch) Nome after his alleged beating.
Nome told The Canadian Press he was asleep naked in bed early one morning on March 2 when guards at the prison burst into his cell ahead of his transfer to Stony Mountain Institution outside Winnipeg and assaulted him. He alleged it was an orchestrated retaliation for various complaints he had made.
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In a report on the incident, Marc Racicot, with the Office of the Correctional Investigator, said he was unable to confirm – or refute – Nome’s accusation.
“Unfortunately, given the lack of handheld camera, this writer cannot review any part of the incident that occurred in inmate Nome’s cell,” Racicot wrote. “Therefore, this writer’s determination is inconclusive.”
The investigator noted “some discrepancies” in the reasons Correctional Service Canada gave for the lack of video. The deputy warden said the “camera battery died,” the case management officer cited a “technical malfunction,” while the security intelligence officer said the “footage could not be downloaded from the camera’s memory.”
Nome, 42, a Jewish Aboriginal who has spent most of his adult life behind bars – including more than a dozen years in segregation – has previously made allegations against guards, some deemed founded, some unfounded. As a result, the lack of video is particularly concerning, the investigator notes.
“Given the incident and the high-profile inmate involved, it is concerning that proper safeguards were not respected to ensure that the incident was properly recorded and documented,” Racicot wrote. “After having reviewed all the documentation, this writer is still unclear as to why the footage was not captured.”
The investigation did find some support for Nome’s contention that the incident had left him with fractures in his foot. A registered nurse at Stony Mountain said an X-ray had turned up a “non-displaced fracture” of his middle toe, which was swollen and purple.
Nome maintains he was given the “good-bye beats” even though he offered no resistance but Kent authorities blame him for the incident. They say he began mouthing off when ordered from his cell and pulled away from guards.
“Nome offered a great deal of physical resistance and it took several officers to remove him,” according to the prison’s account. “(His) allegations of being assaulted by staff are unfounded.”
The prison says he settled down once on the range, where range-surveillance video showed him apparently walking normally.
The investigator also identified problems with the strip search that occurred in front of several officers without an adequate privacy barrier. The search, Racicot concluded, appeared to violate Correctional Service Canada rules.
In response to the report, Kent authorities said they saw no reason to take any action beyond reminding staff to do “proper battery checks.” Regional headquarters agreed.
“Based on the documentation and video footage available, the use of force appears to have been necessary and proportionate,” it said. “There is no documentation or video footage to indicate inappropriate actions on the part of the staff.”
Nome, originally from Williams Lake, B.C., is currently serving an indeterminate sentence for punching a guard in Saskatchewan in the head in 2005. His inordinately long stretches in solitary confinement are of the kind currently facing two constitutional challenges in British Columbia and Ontario.
The Kent incident occurred weeks after Nome was assaulted by fellow inmates – an attack he alleged was by white supremacists and set up by guards. Prison authorities blamed him for not having spoken up about any “incompatibles” on his range.