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location: publications / books / Justice Behind the Walls / Sector 4 / Chapter 5 A Deadly July: Prison Politics, Staff Realities and the Law / August 3-5: A Correctional Officerís Laying on of Hands

August 3-5: A Correctional Officerís Laying on of Hands

Over the long weekend marking the celebration of B.C. Day, Kent Institution experienced two further incidents in which prisoners came perilously close to death. This time the events involved protective custody prisoners and resulted in the lock-down of that side of the house.

On Sunday, August 3, in the exercise yard where Christian Grenier had been killed three weeks earlier, Mr. Acheson, armed with a knife and a weight bar, attacked another prisoner. A staff member managed to confiscate the bar, but Mr. Acheson continued slashing the other prisoner with the knife, inflicting several cuts on his arms. Despite being asked repeatedly to give up his weapon, Mr. Acheson refused to do so. As Officer Noon-Ward, the head of the Emergency Response Team, explained to me, the prisoner at that point ran the serious risk of being shot by the officer in the gun tower. To avoid this, Officer Noon-Ward struck Mr. Acheson with the weight bar. He fell to the ground, where he was restrained. Normally gas would have been available to disable the prisoner, but the gas canister had been moved from its accustomed location and the officers had to improvise an alternative method. Officer Noon-Ward told me he had placed himself between the tower officerís line of sight and the prisoner, and as a consequence, the prisoner had suffered some bruised ribs but had not been shot. Prisoners observing the confrontation expressed surprise that an officer would use a weight bar to strike a prisoner. As described by Officer Noon-Ward:

"Did you see that pig? He piped him." Several inmates approached me and said, "Youíve got a guy with a gun up there. Why didnít he use the gun?" My response was "Would you rather that one of your confreres gets shot, possibly killed, as opposed to a non-lethal strike with a weight bar used like a baton? Give your head a shake." The officer in the gun-walk would have been fully within his rights to fire a warning shot and, after the warning shot, if Acheson didnít drop the knife, because of the proximity of staff, he would have been fully justified in using lethal force on that inmate. Luckily it didnít come to that. (Interview with Mark Noon-Ward, Kent Institution, August 28, 1997)

The next day, Monday, August 4, Officer Noon-Ward was again on duty, this time with several other officers observing prisoner movement in the inner courtyard. Prisoner Sean Blair was sitting on the steps of the courtyard when he felt a burning sensation in his back. As he looked around, he saw another prisoner walking away, carrying a knife by his side that was dripping blood. Mr. Blair realized he had been stabbed. Rather than alerting the guards, he made his way across the courtyard towards the Health Care Unit. He collapsed as he reached the door leading from the courtyard and was rushed to Health Care, where an ambulance was called. Officer Noon-Ward accompanied him to the Chilliwack Hospital, where he was operated on in the emergency room for a punctured lung. His condition did not permit a general anaesthetic, so only a local anaesthetic was administered. At the request of the surgeon, Officer Mark Noon-Ward held Mr. Blair down to prevent him from moving during the operation.

In a period of less than three weeks, Correctional Officer Mark Noon-Ward had found himself leading the Emergency Response Team into A unit to extract prisoners involved in the smash-up; packing and documenting the water-damaged personal effects of segregated prisoners; stepping into the line of a fire of an officer in the gun tower to disable a defiant, knife-wielding prisoner with a weight bar; and assisting in a life-saving operation. Rarely can the phrase "the laying on of hands" have contained such diverse meaning.

The prisoner who stabbed Mr. Blair did this so quickly -- literally without breaking his stride -- that not only the four officers in the yard but Sean Blair himself missed the play. The video cameras recorded only dark shadows, so the assailant remained anonymous to the authorities. Back on the other side of the prison, the national team investigating the A unit smash-up and the murder of Christian Grenier had delivered its debriefing on the previous Thursday, July 31. On Friday, August 1, two of the prisoners involved in the smash-up were released from segregation. However, Mr. Forget, whom the investigation team had confirmed was to be viewed as a victim, not an aggressor, was not released. Cacane Tremblay spoke to Unit Manager Wallin and was advised that Mr. Forget would remain in segregation until after the long weekend, because senior management wanted to be on the scene when he was released to ensure there were no problems.

Mr. Forgetís expected release from segregation on Tuesday, August 5 did not happen. At the end of that day I spoke with Doug Richmond, the acting warden, about the developments. Because of the two assaults on the protective custody side over the weekend, he had been fully occupied with initiating the necessary internal investigations and had not yet given consideration to the release of Mr. Forget or the other prisoners who remained in segregation. He advised me that these decisions would probably await the determination of the Segregation Review Board, although he acknowledged that the original justification for keeping Mr. Forget in segregation no longer sufficed, in light of the national investigationís confirmation that Mr. Forget was a victim.

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Mark Noon-Ward