A trial of inmates accused of viciously assaulting a prisoner in his jail cell heard testimony Thursday that guards faced daunting obstacles in the effort to end an episode of alleged orchestrated violence at the facility.
Officer Matthew Hicks told the Nova Scotia Supreme Court that on Dec. 2, 2019, he had considered using pepper spray as he had advanced toward the beating in Cell 8 of the North 3 unit in the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility.
Hicks, however, said inmate Jacob Lilly stood in front of him, swatted his hand off his pepper spray holster and warned him not to use it. Meanwhile, Hicks said, he saw a wall of inmates deepen and block access to the cell.
“I felt my hand being hit off my pepper spray pouch,” the correctional officer testified. “Jacob Lilly told me: ‘Don’t reach for your spray.'”
The trial heard testimony on Wednesday from another guard who said he had feared a riot would erupt if he had tried anything other than verbal pleas to reach the scene of the alleged assault of inmate Stephen Anderson — who had just arrived in the unit.
Video evidence presented at trial shows one inmate beckoning for other inmates to approach, and it shows prisoners placing their bodies between the cell and the officers. Hicks and his partner, officer Shane Kent, testified they had asked the inmates in vain to step aside. The officers said some of the inmates had covered a window on the cell door with their shirts, preventing the officers from seeing inside.
Hicks told the court that for about 2 minutes and 45 seconds, he heard the haunting sound of kicking, hitting and “stomping” going on in the cell just metres away.
The trial has seen video evidence from a variety of angles showing inmates quickly rushing into the cell and two inmates closing the door. The prosecution has said a brief meeting between prisoners had taken place in a second-floor cell minutes earlier.
There was also testimony on Wednesday by a senior officer who said that before the meeting in the second-floor cell, inmate Brian James Marriott had been recorded telling another prisoner to gather a group and “figure that thing out.”
Hicks said he took about 10 weeks off work because of the trauma he suffered from hearing the violence that unfolded in the cell.
The first six of 15 defendants facing trial are Lilly, Colin Ladelpha, Kirk Carridice, Wesley Hardiman, Omar McIntosh and Matthew Lambert. They face charges of conspiring to commit murder, attempted murder, unlawful confinement, aggravated assault, assault with a weapon and obstructing a peace officer.
Lilly also faces a charge of assaulting a guard.
Eight other inmates are also charged in connection with the alleged attack and await another trial set for later this fall, and a 15th inmate, Sophon Sek, is facing the same charges but will have a separate trial.
Lilly’s defence lawyer suggested during cross-examination that it might have been another person who knocked Hicks’s hand off the pepper spray.
Also during Hicks’s cross-examination, some of the other defence lawyers in the large courtroom set up at the Halifax convention centre suggested that Hicks and his colleagues might have mistaken what they thought they had heard in the cell or what they had witnessed.
Officer Devan Stewart, who came to the scene after receiving an emergency call from the first two responders, testified Thursday, “the sound a head makes when it hits concrete is very unique. The sound a foot makes when it hits someone in the head also makes a unique sound.”
Stewart said he recalled seeing Austin Mitton, who faces a separate trial in the same case later this fall, delivering a soccer kick to Anderson’s head when guards succeeded in opening the door.
The trial has heard evidence that the facility has had many cases where inmates had threatened or committed violence to keep new arrivals from coming into a unit.
On Wednesday, Andrew Miller, senior manager of security at the facility, testified he had been in charge of a number of units over the years and it was not uncommon for inmates to “bounce” an unwanted new arrival by assaulting him.
Miller said sometimes inmates are “politely asked to leave or something bad might happen to them.” Asked how many times he had experienced inmates “bouncing” a new arrival, he responded, “probably 100.”
Officer Ken Burns, a 12-year veteran who had admitted Anderson to the unit, testified Thursday the victim had been in prison for sexual assault in the early 1990s, but he had been safely housed in general populations in the past. Burns said Anderson had been in the same unit earlier that year without incident.
Burns said when he saw Anderson after the attack, Anderson had multiple puncture wounds in his back and was covered in blood.
Those facing charges in the next trial are Marriott, Mitton, Andriko Crawley, Robert Fraser, Matthew Coaker, Geevan Nagendran, Kaz Cox and Kevin Clarke-McNeil.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 23, 2021.