Calls for inmate admissions to be examined at Barton Street jail inquest

An inquest exploring the circumstances surrounding the death of 8 inmates in 4 years at the Barton street jail is being held at the Hamilton Plaza hotel. Global News File

A lawyer representing a prisoner’s advocacy group is voicing concern that the Barton street jail inquest is missing key testimony in the case of 46-year-old David Gillan.

“He was apprehended on a mental-health check,” Poziomka stated outside the proceedings. “With all that information, they pass him off to the correctional facility and none of that information is passed along, or it is and it’s not recorded, we don’t know and we may never know,” he said pointing to a gap in testimony.

In order for the “full story” to be captured at this inquest, Poziomka says the jury needs to hear from the police officer who transferred care to the jail and the admissions officer who processed Gillan in order to know whether his behaviour just days before he was admitted, had been communicated.

“Someone dropped the ball here and I think it’s important to know who dropped the ball, how it happened and how do we prevent it from happening again so we can stop the deaths that are happening at the Barton jail,” said Wade Poziomka, from outside the inquest, Tuesday.

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Poziomka is representing the Prisoner’s HIV/AIDS Action Support Network (PASAN) that has participatory rights in this inquest.

His comments revolve around a piece of documentation that was part of Gillan’s admission to the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre in May 2015.

It’s a checklist intended to help the correctional officer at admissions determine whether or not the individual entering the jail is suicidal. In Gillan’s case, as presented to the jury, no behaviours or warning signs were flagged on the form.

The jury also heard about the days just prior to his arrest through an agreed statement of facts read by Counsel to the coroner, Karen Shea. It shows there was a warrant for Gillan’s arrest because his surety pulled bail and that he fled on the way to the courthouse.

During that brief period, it was revealed to the inquest that he was sending text messages to a friend that left them under the impression that he was not taking his prescription medications and was possibly suicidal.

One text from Gillan, the jury heard, read, “I want to die on my own terms not in jail.” Previous admissions records at the jail list Gillan as having health conditions such as bipolar disorder and antisocial personality disorder.

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The friend notified Hamilton police of their concerns, the inquest heard. Two days later, Gillan indicated to that same friend that he was lost in Toronto and fearful of people out to get him.

Counsel to the coroner, Karen Shea, has advised the jury that attempts are being made to secure a witness from Hamilton police who can speak to the process of transfer of care and information-sharing during the admissions booking process at the jail.

Inside the inquest, Poziomka asked Deborah O’Donnell, the correctional officer who responded to Gillan’s cell on May 19, 2015, what she would have done if she had details about Gillian’s behaviour in the days leading up to admission. She told the inquest she would have sent him for a check-up with medical staff before placing him in a segregation cell for closer monitoring.

Gillan was found inside his cell, unresponsive, for what O’Donnell testified could have been as long as six hours by the time correctional staff responded. His cell door was jammed, she said.

A search of Gillan’s cell led to the discovery of a white powder identified as fentanyl, the jury heard, as well as a suicide note.

The pathology report lists the cause of death as combined drug toxicity.

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A five person jury is examining the circumstances surrounding eight inmate deaths at the Hamilton-Wentworth detention centre in a four year period. They may make recommendations aimed at preventing similar deaths once all the evidence has been presented at this inquest.

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