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The Strip Searches at Kent

On Thursday, March 19, 1998, warden of Kent authorized an exceptional search of the institution. The IPSO had received information from a prisoner believed to be reliable that he had recently seen a .22 calibre revolver and ten to twenty rounds of .22 ammunition. The source believed that the weapon and ammunition were in the possession of a protective custody prisoner, but there were plans to sell them to the GP Native Brotherhood, and a down payment of seven points of heroin had already been paid to the PC Brotherhood. The search authorization form recited the provisions of s. 53 of the CCRA ; and since there were reasonable grounds to believe the weapon and ammunition constituted "a clear and substantial danger to human life or safety or to the security of the penitentiary . . . a strip search of all the inmates in the penitentiary or any part thereof is necessary in order to seize the contraband and avert the danger" (Exceptional Search Authorization Form, Kent Institution, March 19, 1998).

Because it was believed that the weapon and ammunition were still on the PC side, most likely with particular prisoners in F and G units, it was determined that the search would begin there. A decision was made to deploy the Emergency Response Team (ERT) to remove these prisoners from their cells and conduct the strip searches. The previous week, there had been a disturbance in G unit which resulted in lockdown of the PC population. The prisoners in E and F units were locked down without any problems, but one of the G unit prisoners overturned a table and openly incited other prisoners to join him in resisting the staff. The "insurrection" was resolved through negotiations, but the prisoners in G unit had advised the administration that the next time they wanted to lock down the unit, they had better come "with all of their friends." In light of that, the use of the ERT was deemed appropriate. Because the team would already be suited up, it was decided they should extract and search the targeted prisoners from F unit as well.

ERT leader Officer Mark Noon-Ward was called into the institution along with other members of the team. He was briefed by warden and the co-ordinator of correctional operations. All prisoners housed in G unit and two targeted prisoners from F unit were to be extracted, strip searched, and escorted to K unit. In accordance with ERT procedures, Officer Noon-Ward drew up an operational plan. He requested that, in addition to team members wearing bulletproof vests, the teams for both F and G units be armed with a rifle in case they confronted a prisoner with a loaded gun. The Warden rejected this on the grounds that there was an armed officer in the control bubble on the units. Other elements of the plan were that each inmate was to be strip searched, given coveralls, and scanned with metal detector, and that each cell was to be searched by hand-picked staff after the ERT was clear. There was no specific discussion during the briefing session about the method of strip searching, and it was Officer Noon-Ward's understanding that this would be done in accordance with normal ERT procedures.

Officer Noon-Ward then briefed members of the ERT. The briefing was videotaped, as would be the rest of the operation. Officer Noon-Ward reiterated the grounds for the operation -- it was believed there was a weapon and ammunition in the institution. Two separate teams would be deployed, each consisting of six members. Each prisoner would be instructed to strip in his cell prior to the cell door being opened. He would then be instructed to place his hands behind his back to be handcuffed. He would be escorted to the common area at the end of the tier, where a thorough search would be conducted using a hand-held metal scanner. Once the team was satisfied the prisoner was not in possession of any unauthorized items, he would be placed in coveralls, handcuffed again and escorted to the entrance of the unit by the team, then turned over to other staff for escort to K unit. One team member would be equipped with a gas launcher and other designated officers would carry a distraction device to use in the event that the team encountered a serious threat. (These devices, when detonated, make a very loud noise and are intended to distract anyone in close proximity, allowing team members to move in and "take down" a prisoner.) The team members were advised that if they heard the word "gun," they were to move quickly away from the cell doors so that the distraction devices could be deployed. Officer Noon-Ward, in reviewing strip search procedures, stated that prisoners would be asked to lift their "nut sacks." This colloquialism was not used in a salacious or flippant way and elicited no inappropriate response from team members. Officer Noon-Ward also emphasized that team members marching in formation across the courtyard to the units were to bang their shields loudly.

In a later interview, Mr. Noon-Ward explained the reason for the latter procedure. It sends a clear signal to prisoners that the team is on its way and is intended to intimidate them into compliance with the team's instructions, thereby minimizing the need for resorting to force; it also reinforces the concept of members working as a team and allows a measured release of adrenaline so that there is no build-up of tension that may result in precipitate action.

The cell extractions and strip searches began in F unit with Mr. Garnell. The videotape shows Mr. Garnell taking off his clothes in his cell, as ordered, then being placed in handcuffs behind his back and led, facing backwards, by the team to the common area. Though the prisoner is naked, the video shows him only from the waist up. This is standard operating procedure for videotaping strip searches and is done to protect the prisoner's dignity in the event that the tape is viewed by others. In the common area, Mr. Garnell was surrounded by ten officers: team members, an officer designated as the "scribe" to document the team's activities, and a correctional supervisor, Mr. Cole. He was also under observation by the officer in the control bubble. Mr. Garnell was searched with a metal wand detector and was then asked to open his mouth, run his fingers through his hair and lift his scrotum. According to Officer Noon-Ward's plan, after the strip search a prisoner was to receive a set of clean coveralls. However, during the first searches the coveralls had not yet been delivered, so Mr. Garnell stood naked while his clothes were retrieved from his cell and carefully inspected by a staff member. He was then given his shorts and shirt, taken to the door of the unit and escorted by other staff to K unit. The time that Mr. Garnell stood naked in front of staff was about seven minutes. (Once the coveralls arrived, this time was reduced to between three and four minutes.) At no time were disparaging comments made to Mr. Garnell; Officer Noon-Ward's firm instructions on several occasions were coupled with the word "please" and Mr. Garnell was fully co-operative in the procedure. The cell extractions and strip searches of the rest of the prisoners also took place without incident. The extractions began at 10:20 p.m., and by 11:00 p.m. all twenty-six prisoners from F and G units had been removed by the two teams to K unit. The gun and ammunition were not found.

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Mark Noon-Ward