Coroner hears about days leading to death of Saint John, N.B. inmate

Click to play video: 'Coroner’s inquest begins in N.B. jail death'
Coroner’s inquest begins in N.B. jail death
WATCH: A coroner’s inquest has begun in New Brunswick into the death of a Wolastoqey inmate. Skyler Soloman-Sappier’s family says he died of COVID-19, and they accuse a provincial jail of inadequate medical treatment. Zack Power reports – May 16, 2023

Coroner Micheal Johnston presided over a coroner’s inquest into the death of an inmate at the Saint John Regional Correctional Centre.

Skyler Sappier died after becoming ill inside while serving a sentence. The inquest sought a fact-finding mission into the cause of the death and what the province can learn for the future.

Five jury members from a host of around 60 residents were selected. Those members overhead the details of his death later at the Saint John Regional Hospital.

Moments before the courtroom heard about the days leading up to his death, family members wearing T-shirts with a picture of Sappier held a traditional ceremony. An honour song with drumming and singling filled the courtroom.

Days before he died, Sappier went to registered nurses saying that he felt his lung capacity was at 70 per cent. Nurses at the correctional centre said that they didn’t feel he needed any oxygen puffers.

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He had suspected COVID-19, as the prison was dealing with an outbreak. Sappier was awaiting his test results, which would come back positive moments before he left the prison.

His bunkmate had already tested positive for COVID-19.

Offices from the correctional centre said they couldn’t speak to what the prison was doing to prevent future instances but said “it could have been possible” for a positive and negative COVID-19 patient to be living together.

An internal medicine specialist said that the aging prison doesn’t have the capability to isolate inmates when a third of the inmates are positive.

Sappier spent eight hours in prison before being transferred to the hospital in Saint John.

Click to play video: 'Skyler Sappier ‘didn’t need to die,’ criminologist says'
Skyler Sappier ‘didn’t need to die,’ criminologist says

Staff at the corrections centre checked on him before sending him to the hospital. Staff also decided against using an ambulance.

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“If it was an emergency, we would have called an ambulance,” said Ashley Brouwer, the facility’s registered nurse.

“It wasn’t an emergent situation.”

Once Sappier arrived at the Saint John Regional Hospital, corrections officers noticed that the inmate’s condition started to deteriorate.

Corrections officers began to notice his voice started to crackle and it became harder for Sappier to sit up. One nurse described him with signs of sepsis.

Staff at the hospital later transported him to an isolation room, where they believed Sappier had a lung capability of 90 per cent or less.

A pathologist later testified, saying he believed the Indigenous inmate died from complications from COVID-19.

“People feel well until they don’t,” explained Dr. Kenneth O’Benson.

“He had heavy lungs (and) fluid in his chest.”

The inquest is slated to resume tomorrow morning in Saint John. Global News will continue to follow this story as it develops.

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