Another death, the second this week, has been reported involving an inmate at London’s Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre, the province’s Ministry of the Solicitor General has confirmed.
Paramedics attended the jail Wednesday morning after an inmate was located in medical distress and was taken to hospital where they were pronounced dead, said a ministry spokesperson.
“It is not appropriate for the ministry to publicly comment further as a number of investigations are underway,” the spokesperson said via email early Wednesday night.
The inmate was a 61-year-old man who had only been at the jail for about a week, said Kevin Egan, a partner at McKenzie Lake Lawyers who is representing more than 13,000 people in a $325 million class-action lawsuit against the province over conditions at EMDC.
The man’s death comes days after another EMDC inmate, identified by Egan with permission from the person’s family as Tyler Lancha, 26, died in hospital on Monday after being found in medical distress the previous day.
“I’ve spoken to his family. They all obviously loved him very much, and they obviously are devastated by the fact that a 26-year-old, otherwise healthy, individual went into EMDC and came out dead,” Egan said in an interview earlier Wednesday, before news of the second inmate death emerged.
“He’s the father of a young boy that will now grow up without a father. His family are devastated by his loss.”
Lancha had been at the jail after being arrested last summer in connection to a shooting investigation on Marconi Boulevard.
Details about his death remain limited, but Egan says, citing inmates at the jail, that Lancha’s family learned he had been throwing up the previous night, and that a nurse “apparently told the correctional officers to check on him regularly.”
“We also know that at around 3:30 in the morning, he was heard throwing up, and then found unresponsive at around 7:00. So it appears there was no medical intervention, assistance or monitoring provided.”
Egan says it’s believed that Lancha’s methadone dose had recently been increased. “The thought is that the increased methadone dosage may have contributed,” he said.
Egan said the family had been told Lancha was likely unresponsive for at least 90 minutes before he was found and taken to the hospital, where he was placed on life support and died the next day.
“He was in the hospital for, as I understand it, about three and a half hours before the family was notified that there was anything wrong,” Egan said.
A ministry spokesperson declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation.
“The family felt badly treated when they went to the hospital, not by hospital staff, but by correctional officers who were certainly unsympathetic and, kind of, obstructed their ability to say goodbye to Tyler,” Egan said.
An inquest into the deaths of Lancha and the other inmate would automatically be called should the coroner determine the cause of death was anything other than natural causes, according to the ministry.
“All signs are pointing in this case to to a mandatory inquest,” Egan said of Lancha’s death.
“When you’ve got an otherwise healthy 26-year-old male suddenly dying, signs do point to unnatural causes, but we don’t know at this point.”
At least 18 people have died at the jail since 2009.
Inquests have been held into at least six of them, most recently last year involving Floyd Deleary, 39, and Justin Thompson, 27, who died in August 2015 and October 2016, respectively — Deleary of acute fentanyl toxicity, and Thompson of acute fentanyl and cocaine toxicity.
The inquest had also been set to look into the death of Murray Davis in August 2017 of fentanyl toxicity, but was delayed indefinitely after an inmate’s testimony suggested his death was a killing, according to the London Free Press. Davis does not currently appear on the chief coroner’s inquest schedule.
The Deleary/Thompson inquest resulted in a slew of jury recommendations, 80 in all, with the first calling for the province to consider replacing EMDC with a modern facility to “adequately accommodate, with dignity, the inmate population,” and provide a suitable environment for rehabilitation and reintegration.
“There are a number of other recommendations about training staff on recognizing issues with with substance abuse, providing education and training to inmates to help them overcome abuse,” Egan said.
“There was a quite a lengthy list of recommendations, none of which has been implemented in the last year, nor has the ministry even taken the time to send us a response to the jury’s recommendations, and they’re required to within six months.”
In an emailed statement Thursday, a spokesperson said the ministry was “in the process of preparing responses to the Deleary/Thompson inquest recommendations and will respond to the Office of the Chief Coroner directly.”
Egan describes the troubled jail as “hell on earth,” calling it a horrible place to be incarcerated in and to work in.
The jail has been plagued by overcrowding, poor supervision and violence for years, and has been home to numerous drug overdoses, and a recent COVID-19 outbreak that has at seen at least 58 confirmed cases involving 29 inmates and 29 staff since it was declared on Jan. 18.
In 2019, former chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, Renu Mandhane, called the facility overcrowded, unsanitary, and dangerous in a letter to the province’s solicitor general.
The jail, Mandhane wrote, exhibits conditions that are dehumanizing and antithetical to prisoner rehabilitation and reintegration.
“I’ve got mothers whose sons are in the hospital because they’ve been beaten, one who now looks like he’ll be in Parkwood Hospital for some extensive rehabilitation after having had surgery to relieve pressure on his brain after a severe beating,” Egan said.
“Every time I speak to the media about another death, it seems like we’re just rolling the same film. It’s the same issues time and time again.”