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Officers failed to follow procedures prior to Cape Breton jail cell death: review

Ernie LeBlanc hold a photo of his son Jason LeBlanc at their home in Sydney Mines, N.s. on Monday, March 14, 2016.
Ernie LeBlanc hold a photo of his son Jason LeBlanc at their home in Sydney Mines, N.s. on Monday, March 14, 2016. The Canadian Press

Correctional officers at a provincial jail in Cape Breton failed to follow proper procedures earlier this year when they placed a man in a cell, where he died of a drug overdose 13 hours later, Nova Scotia’s Justice Department says.

The department’s review of the case, released Monday, says that when Jason Marcel LeBlanc was admitted to the Cape Breton Correctional Facility on Jan. 30, staff did not get a required health transfer form or an explanation for why escorting officers didn’t have one.

READ MORE: Dead Cape Breton inmate had opiate in his blood, pills in pants

As well, the department concluded staff did not follow all steps in the strip search process, and they failed to complete their rounds at standard intervals.

“Failures to meet the standards established in policy will be addressed through disciplinary action, where appropriate, and through coaching,” the review said.

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The review says the 42-year-old labourer, who was arrested for a parole violation, was seen by health-care staff when he was admitted, but it says he did not show signs of impairment or indicate any health concerns.

“No information was provided at the time of the offender’s admission that indicated any health concerns or that drugs had been consumed prior to admission,” the review says.

The department says no contraband was found on LeBlanc, but it says images taken by a surveillance camera inside the cell suggest he had probably consumed illicit drugs taken from a small bag concealed in a body cavity.

Invasive internal searches not allowed

Provincial legislation does not allow correctional officers to conduct invasive internal searches.

It appears LeBlanc consumed the pills as early as 1:44 p.m., a half hour after he arrived at the jail, the review says, adding that he was seen by health-care staff at 3:43 p.m. and again at 6:33 p.m., before falling asleep at 7:44 p.m.

“No recommendation or advice was received from health care for special precautions, special watch of the offender or that the offender should be transported to the hospital,” the review says.

The review did not include any input from health-care staff or a review of health records because such measures are prevented by the Personal Health Information Act, the department said.

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“My heart goes out to Mr. LeBlanc’s family and loved ones,” Justice Minister Diana Whalen said in statement. “We will use this tragic situation to improve our procedures going forward.”

The province’s Correctional Services branch, which is part of the Justice Department, has committed to consult with health-care professionals to look at ways to reduce the risks associated with drug overdose.

As well, the department says Correctional Services will follow up with staff to discuss ways to reduce the risk of similar deaths in the future.

Questions raised about intoxicated inmate monitoring

An earlier autopsy report said LeBlanc had entered the cell with a bag full of pills and near-fatal levels of methadone in his blood.

His father, Ernie LeBlanc, has raised questions about how jails monitor dangerously intoxicated inmates, suggesting staff at the jail should have noticed earlier that something was wrong.

The autopsy, completed by the medical examiner’s office, said Jason LeBlanc overdosed on a combination of methadone and bromezapan.

The man’s father has said he was told his son “didn’t look his best” and had abnormal blood pressure when he arrived at the jail.

The medical examiner also said the surveillance video showed the inmate’s breathing started to slow at 1:50 a.m. on Jan. 31, and it took 45 minutes before corrections officers found him unresponsive in his cell. He was declared dead at 2:45 a.m.

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The video images also show Jason LeBlanc pulling a bag of bromezapan pills out of his pants before he begins to lose consciousness, says the June 8 report by Dr. Marnie Wood.

Ernie LeBlanc has said the autopsy also raised questions about the level of medical care his son received and how he managed to ingest pills without being detected.

“The report says you can see him hiding pills, taking pills out of his pants, bending down under the bed … turning his back to the camera,” the grieving father said in a recent interview. “The cell should have been checked right away.”

Howard Sapers, the head of the federal Office of the Correctional Investigator, has said the case warrants an external inquiry.