Marc Joseph Pellerin escape review blames human error and equipment

An internal Justice Department review into how a prisoner escaped the custody of Nova Scotia deputy sheriffs last month in Truro blames a failure to follow policy and equipment problems

The Justice Department said a number of policies have been updated as a result of report's findings

Marc Joseph Pellerin has a history of escaping police custody. (CBC)

The Nova Scotia Justice Department says a prisoner who escaped deputy sheriffs last month had a "unique ability to contort his hand" and slip out of handcuffs, but an internal review of the escape also blames a failure to follow policy and possible equipment malfunction.

On Dec. 5, Marc Joseph Pellerin was being transferred from a jail in Shediac, N.B., to Halifax for a court appearance. He was being moved from one sheriff's van to another in Truro when he escaped.

He was recaptured three days later in Stewiacke.

The Justice Department said Monday human error was a contributing factor. Staff did not complete a risk assessment, perform proper checks or make sure radios and cameras were available and working properly.

"I'm very disappointed that it happened," Justice Minister Diana Whelan told reporters Monday afternoon.

"I think it is a concern and our big take-away is we have to learn some lessons from this."

Only one of four deputy sheriffs had a working radio. Another radio was clipped to the console of the prisoner's van and was out of reach, a third had a dead battery, while the final sheriff had no radio at all.

The closed-circuit video system in the van had been reported broken a month earlier, but had not been fixed. It meant deputy sheriffs could not keep a proper eye on Pellerin.

But the director of sheriff services for the department says there's a simple solution to a broken video system.

"Just before the individual got out, somebody should have looked and seen if in fact his restraints were intact," Fred Hildebrand told reporters at a hastily called news conference.

"It is a duty upon the officers to look back and see, before they open that door, if the restraints are intact."

Chain snapped

The review said although Pellerin was properly restrained in handcuffs and leg irons, he has "a unique ability to contort his hand," and was able to get out of the cuffs. He was then able to snap the chain connecting the leg irons.

The equipment has been sent to the manufacturer for further testing to see if there was a malfunction.

The Justice Department said a risk assessment policy has now been put in place. As a result of the escape, unloading and loading procedures will be emphasized in deputy sheriff training, and policies surrounding equipment are being revised.

Pellerin has a history of escaping police custody.

In May 2015, he was arrested by Halifax Regional Police at a pawn shop on Windmill Road in Dartmouth, where he was tackled by officers and the owner of the shop.

After he was arrested, Pellerin was taken to a police station. When he arrived, Pellerin escaped from the vehicle and fled. An officer called for backup and chased Pellerin, who was soon caught by police.

Neither Hildebrand nor Whelan would say what discipline the four deputy sheriffs involved in this case might face, citing confidentiality rules. However Hildebrand said discipline could range from retraining to a reprimand to — in extreme cases — dismissal. No disciplinary action has been taken yet.

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