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Family of N.B. inmate who died of COVID-19 speaks out: ‘He deserved more’

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Family of New Brunswick inmate who died of COVID-19 speaks out
WATCH: The 28-year-old man who died while incarcerated at the Saint John Regional Correctional Centre last weekend - died from COVID-19, according to his family. And with a coroner's inquest on the way, they're demanding answers about what happened – Feb 3, 2022

The family of a young Indigenous man who contracted COVID-19 and died while serving a brief jail sentence is demanding answers, alleging the facility failed to get him the medical help he needed in time to save his life.

Skyler Sappier, a 28-year-old Wolastoqey father of two, was serving a three-month sentence for breach of probation at the Saint John Regional Correctional Centre.

According to the province, which recently ordered a coroner’s inquest into his death, Sappier was admitted to the Saint John Regional Hospital on Jan. 29 and died in the early morning hours of Jan. 31.

“I told him that night that I loved him,” said his mother, Dora Sappier-Michaud, in an interview. “I wish I could have been there to help him.”

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What the province didn’t mention, citing privacy reasons, was that Sappier died of COVID-19 – something his family wants to be made public.

“It feels like medical neglect,” said Raeann Michaud, Sappier’s older sister.

Sappier’s family said he had difficulty breathing for days before he was taken to hospital. Facebook/Skyler Sappier

Michaud said she has spoken to other inmates who said Sappier had been complaining for days about not being able to breathe properly.

At one point, she said he was locked in his cell for 10 hours while he begged for medical help.

“He was in respiratory distress for days, not being able to breathe good,” Michaud said. “If he had gotten (to the hospital) sooner, he might still be alive.”

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The family said Sappier was healthy and had been fully vaccinated and boosted. They were not informed when he first tested positive for COVID-19, and only found out that he was ill shortly before he died.

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When he first arrived at the hospital, the family said he was placed on a ventilator immediately, which indicated he had been sick for a while.

“He must have been sick for a long time in jail, and they just didn’t bother to bring him to the hospital until it was too late,” said Sappier’s mother.

Sappier’s family is calling for #JusticeForSkyler, alleging his life could have been saved if he had been given medical treatment sooner.
Sappier’s family is calling for #JusticeForSkyler, alleging his life could have been saved if he had been given medical treatment sooner. Submitted by Abby Sappier

The province first declared a COVID-19 outbreak at the Saint John Regional Correctional Centre on Jan. 24 and announced it halfway down a news release on Jan. 27.

At the time, it said a total of 176 adults had tested positive between that facility as well as other jails in Madawaska, Dalhousie and Shediac.

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Click to play video: 'Prison justice advocates call for more to be done amid COVID-19 outbreaks at 2 N.S. facilities'
Prison justice advocates call for more to be done amid COVID-19 outbreaks at 2 N.S. facilities

On Thursday, Department of Justice spokesperson Geoffrey Downey said there are currently 27 COVID-positive inmates and 54 infected staff members at the Saint John Regional Correctional Centre.

‘I love you guys’

Growing up, Sappier, one of six siblings from Tobique First Nation, was “full of adventure,” according to his younger sister, Sierra Sappier.

She recalled one time during their childhood when they got up before everyone else and rode their bikes around the reservation with their cousins, having a blast.

“That was just one of the many things Skyler liked to do,” she said.

“He was very much full of energy and had a lot of fun. He always knew how to find the fun in things.”

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Sappier ‘always knew how to find the fun in things,’ according to his sister.
Sappier ‘always knew how to find the fun in things,’ according to his sister. Submitted by Abby Sappier

Sierra said the family received a letter from Sappier in January. “That would have been the last communication some of us would have had with him,” she said.

In the letter dated Jan. 14, viewed by Global News, Sappier said he was getting clean from drugs and he was looking forward to his release from jail, which, at that point, was supposed to be in 27 days.

Sappier said he hoped to get a spot at a shelter when he was out so he could settle down and do his taxes. He said he was looking forward to seeing his son, and asked his family to send him pictures of his daughter.

“I’m staying out of s–t here so don’t worry I love you guys,” he wrote.

He ended the letter by writing “I love you” in the Wolastoqey language.

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In a letter dated Jan. 14, Sappier said he was looking forward to getting out of jail.
In a letter dated Jan. 14, Sappier said he was looking forward to getting out of jail. Submitted by Abby Sappier

His family wants him to know that they love him too.

“I’m sorry everything played out the way it did, and I love you,” said Sierra. “We all do. I don’t think he understood how much he was truly loved in this life.”

Michaud agreed, saying: “I would tell him that he deserved more than this and he is loved beyond measure.”

The date for the coroner’s inquest, which is a formal proceeding that allows for public presentation of all evidence relating to a death, has yet to be announced. The presiding coroner, schedule and location have also not yet been determined.

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While his family waits for answers, they’ve launched a social media campaign calling for #JusticeForSkyler.

“Sky, we’re going to get to the bottom of this,” said his mother, Dora Sappier-Michaud. “We’re going to get justice for you.”

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