Ten correctional officers charged with manslaughter or criminal negligence; lawyer for Henoche's family suggests immediate release of those charged 'reeks of favourtism'
Justice and Public Safety Minister Steve Crocker says his department is not currently considering an inquiry into the killing of inmate Jonathan Henoche at Her Majesty’s Penitentiary (HMP).
Ten correctional officers were charged this week with manslaughter or criminal negligence in connection with the death of Henoche, a 33-year-old Inuk man who died in the prison in November 2019.
The RNC released more details about the accused prison staff Tuesday, but said it was unable to name them until police officers swear to the charges at provincial court, which they haven’t yet done. When they do, the names will become public. The charges must be sworn before the accused's first court date, which has been set for Feb. 11, 2021.
Police say a 51-year-old man has been charged with manslaughter and failing to provide the necessities of life, while a 35-year-old man and a 30-year-old man have been charged with manslaughter. Seven others have been charged with criminal negligence causing death: two men both aged 28, men aged 34, 41 and 44, and two women, aged 38 and 36.
All 10 accused have been released on conditions to await their court date.
Henoche, 33, died around lunchtime on Nov. 6, 2019, following an incident in the protective custody unit, sources say. It reportedly started when he made physical contact with a female correctional officer’s arm, leading to an intense physical altercation between him and other officers. Two corrections officers were sent to the medical unit, sources indicate, while Henoche was restrained and taken to segregation. He was reportedly combative and officers put leg restraints on him to stop him from kicking.
At some point, Henoche stopped breathing and couldn't be revived by medical staff in the prison.
Henoche was in HMP awaiting trial for murder in the death of 88-year-old Regula Schule of Happy Valley-Goose Bay. Schule, a well-known and respected humanitarian who volunteered at the Labrador Correctional Centre, was killed in July 2016 and Henoche was charged with first-degree murder, arson with disregard to human life, arson with damage to property, break and entry, and robbery.
“An inquiry is not something we are considering at this time,” Crocker told The Telegram in an emailed statement late Tuesday. “We have and will continue to review policies and procedures in adult corrections to ensure we meet best practices from across the country.”
Crocker said the department is in the midst of implementing recommendations presented in the 2019 “Newfoundland and Labrador Corrections and Community Services Deaths in Custody Review,” commissioned following four deaths at HMP and the province’s Correctional Centre for Women in 2017 and 2018. The report, written by retired RNC Supt. Marlene Jesso, makes 17 recommendations, calling on the government to improve training for correctional officers, improve video archiving practices, expand mental-health services and implement random inmate counts, among others.
"The decision to release (those charged) wasn't made by the investigating officers. This was not a first-rank decision. This is institutional favouritism within the police force and the Department of Justice. It reeks of favouritism and racism." — Bob Buckingham
“There are well-known infrastructure issues that present a challenge,” Crocker said.
Construction of a new penitentiary is expected to start in 2022, he added.
“Ensuring we have a safe and healthy living and work environment in our correctional facilities is a top priority,” Crocker wrote.
St. John’s lawyer Bob Buckingham said he isn't sure how infrastructure issues played a role in his client's death.
"Jonathan Henoche's death was caused by individuals, not by infrastructure," he told The Telegram. "It was a result of institutional failure, incompetent leadership and incompetent training."
Buckingham, who is representing Henoche's family members as they explore the possibility of a civil suit related to his death, said institutional failure — including what he described as a lack of empathy, a failure to understand Indigenous issues and a lack of understanding of mental-health issues — had a role to play.
"Absolute power corrupts absolutely," he quoted.
Buckingham has been calling for an inquiry into Henoche's death and says he will continue to push for one, and will also continue to look to Indigenous leaders in the province to get involved.
When it comes to the RNC’s release of the accused correctional officers, the decision to release or hold a person once they’re charged is guided by the Criminal Code. Police are obligated keep a person in custody if they believe it’s in the public interest because of issues with establishing the person’s identity, preserving evidence, preventing the continuation or repetition of the offence or another crime, ensuring the safety of a victim or witness, or if they believe there’s a possibility that the accused won’t attend court.
Buckingham acknowledged that, but said it should be up to a judge to make the decision. Police could have sworn to the correctional officers' charges already, he said.
"The decision to release them in the circumstances wasn't made by the investigating officers," Buckingham reckoned. "This was not a first-rank decision. This is institutional favouritism within the police force and the Department of Justice. It reeks of favouritism and racism. If the charges are manslaughter, the individuals should have been brought to court and only released by a judicial decision."
Tara Bradbury reports on the courts and the justice system in St. John's.