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August and September 1994: Rumble in the Jungle -- The Mike Tyson Fight at Kent

In the world outside of prison, talk of "a brew party" may conjure up images of good-looking people chugging beer in a sports bar. The idea of people getting together to have a few drinks is not necessarily loaded with the potential for violence. It is a very different story inside a prison. In my many conversations with experienced correctional officers, when I asked what they saw as the most dangerous situation they encountered in the course of their work, the one which caused them the most fear for their safety, it was not the high-profile hostage-taking that punctuates the history of Canadian corrections but, as one officer described it, "a brew party that goes sideways." Even though the consumption of prison home brew, manufactured in a variety of ingenious stills, does not typically result in prisoners going on a rampage, there is enough oral history about such incidents to generate a realistic fear among staff. In August 1994, that oral history had another chapter added to it.

On the evening of August 16, 1994, Officers Cole and Durand were working in C unit. They became suspicious that a brew party might be taking place when two prisoners called down for minor court hearings, James Doherty and Shawn Preddy, appeared to be under the influence. Shortly afterwards, the officers decided to investigate further. They observed four prisoners inside cell 3: Shawn Preddy, Rick DaSilva, Mike Tyson, and Mark Biega. According to a tape-recorded statement from Office Cole, the following events unfolded:

The four inmates all stopped what they were doing and looked at me. I stated to them, "Fellows, you know why I’m down here, but you guys have the option right now to dump out the brew that you have in your cups, no paperwork will be done, and to lock up." At that time Shawn Preddy agreed with that, turned to his fellow inmates and said, "That’s a good idea." Preddy dumped out his cup full of homemade brew, walked down the range and walked up to his cell. At that time Mark Biega followed Preddy out of the cell. He still had a cup full of brew. I asked him to dump it out, he refused, stating that he is going to drink it on the way to the cell. At the time inmate Tyson and inmate DaSilva were hugging. Tyson then left the cell, went towards his cell which was 002, and entered his cell. He ended up stepping backwards out of his cell, removed his front teeth and his glasses, stepped towards the officer, hit myself in the top part of my left side of the cheek and at the time the fight ensued. It took approximately ten seconds for myself to control inmate Tyson. At that time inmate DaSilva realized what was going on. We were unable to get his door closed at that time. Inmate DaSilva charged at myself. My partner, Maurice Durand, ended up jumping on DaSilva’s back. We were able to take DaSilva down and at that time both my partner and myself pushed our PPAs [portable personal alarms] to summon extra staff. At that time extra staff did attend. When they did attend I ended up going down to the end of the range where the correctional supervisor, Matt Brown, ordered me to Health Care to check my wounds. I ended up going to the hospital with Maurice Durand and we were checked out. Maurice had a very sore back. Myself, I had a broken little finger in my right hand, a cut below my left eye, a bruising under my left eye, and a swollen chin on my left side.

Officer Dain, who arrived on the scene when Officers Cole and Durand were "facing off" with Mr. Tyson and Mr. DaSilva, wrote in his incident report:

Tyson was trying to hold back DaSilva from getting at the officers. DaSilva was swinging at anybody over the shoulder of Tyson. When I closed in to try and subdue DaSilva he punched me in the right cheek. Correctional Supervisor Brown called for a shield and gas. When it arrived he warned the two inmates that gas would be used if they did not cooperate. At this time DaSilva just flipped out and tried to get at staff. Gas was used on both inmates and they were handcuffed.

All of the prisoners involved in this incident were taken to segregation, and disciplinary charges were laid. In addition, instructions were given to Mr. Tyson and Mr. DaSilva’s case management officers to prepare transfer packages for the Special Handling Unit.

Disciplinary court appearances took place on August 30. The first prisoner was Mr. Doherty, whose appearance in minor court had triggered the officers’ suspicion that a party was in progress. The charge against Mr. Doherty was one I had not seen before at Kent or Matsqui: CCRA, s. 40(s), "attempts to do or assists another person to do anything referred to in paragraphs (a) to (r)." The offence report signed by Officer Durand read:

On 94-08-16 Doherty attended a minor court hearing in the office in C Unit at which I was present. Doherty appeared to be under the influence of an intoxicant because his gait was unsteady and his eyes seemed slightly unfocused. The subsequent inmate who appeared at the minor court hearing seemed substantially more impaired. Therefore my partner and I proceeded to investigate down the range and interrupted a brew party in cell C 003. My partner ordered the four inmates involved to dump the brew and go back to their own cells. I attempted to isolate Doherty and two other inmates by locking them into cell C 005. My partner at this time was being assaulted by one of the inmates involved in the brew party. Inmate Doherty resisted by trying to obstruct the cell door from closing.

Mr. Doherty came into the hearing room wearing a baseball hat. Correctional Supervisor Logan, the court advisor, asked him to take his hat off. Mr. Doherty refused, saying his hair would fall over his eyes. Mr. Logan told him again to take his hat off and stood up to make his point. Mr. Doherty said, "Are you going to get violent with me for keeping my hat on?" Mr. Fox told Mr. Doherty to go back to his cell until he was prepared to show the appropriate respect for the court. Mr. Doherty again explained that if he took his hat off, his hair would fall over his eyes, and he wanted to see what was happening. Mr. Fox responded, "That is your choice." Mr. Doherty then took his hat off, revealing a mass of long curly hair that did flop down over his eyes, requiring him to brush it back. (What seemed to escape everyone in the room was that the duty officer standing by the door of the courtroom was wearing a baseball hat of the type sported by Mr. Doherty. There was no suggestion that the officer should take his hat off or that his failure to do so showed disrespect for the court.)

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