British Columbia

Corrections sued over violent death of double-bunked pretrial inmate

The parents of a man killed by a cellmate in Surrey pretrial claim B.C. Corrections staff kept them from touching their son as he lay dying in hospital

John Murphy's parents claim B.C. Corrections staff told them not to touch their son as he lay dying

John Murphy's family claims the 25-year-old was killed by his cellmate while being held in a segregation cell at Surrey Pretrial centre. (Shutterstock/cunaplus)

The parents of a man killed by a cellmate in Surrey Pretrial Centre claim B.C. Corrections staff kept them from touching their son as he lay dying in hospital.

Kenneth and Sandra Murphy are suing B.C.'s Attorney General as well as the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General, B.C. Corrections and others in connection with the 2016 death of their son John Murphy.

According to a notice of civil claim, the 25-year-old was in pretrial awaiting a hearing for breaching a driving prohibition when he was asphyxiated by a fellow inmate.

His parents and two sisters are now suing for damages, claiming the authorities charged with protecting Murphy while he was behind bars failed in their public duty by placing him in a segregated cell with the man who killed him.

"The defendants were and remain aware that violence is endemic in correctional institutions and British Columbia correctional institutions in particular," the lawsuit reads.

"They were further aware of the potential dangers of placing two prisoners in segregation/solitary confinement together, particularly when one or both of them had a history of violence."

'He was unresponsive'

Jordan Cole Burt was sentenced last week to a little more than two years and six months for manslaughter in connection with Murphy's death. At the time, RCMP said Corrections officers intervened during an altercation between the two men.

According to the notice of civil claim, Murphy had previously been convicted for impaired driving causing death in relation to a car accident in 2011.

According to the notice of civil claim, Murphy was placed in pretrial after being arrested for breaching probation. His parents claim they didn't have the money for bail. (iStock photo)

He was working as a full-time labourer at a camp in the north when he was arrested for breach of probation.

"He was remanded to (Surrey Pretrial) as he and his family could not afford bail at the time," the lawsuit says.

"His family spoke with him on the phone regularly while he was incarcerated ... Kenneth and Sandra Murphy were not aware that John Murphy had been placed in segregation."

According to the court documents, Murphy was placed in segregation due to his alleged involvement in a group altercation in his living area a week before his death.

"Most cells in segregation house two prisoners at a time, a practice commonly known as 'double bunking.' Prisoners spend 23 hours per day in their cells together," the lawsuit says.

"John Murphy and his cellmate became involved in an altercation inside their cell. During the course of this altercation, John Murphy was asphyxiated. He was unresponsive when staff entered the cell."

They 'knew or ought to have known'

According to the notice of claim, Murphy was taken to Surrey Memorial. His parents rushed to the hospital, where a doctor told them he appeared to have been deprived of oxygen for 10 to 15 minutes.

The Murphys claim Corrections staff told them they couldn't see their son without authorization.

"They attempted to contact the warden and deputy warden of (Surrey Pretrial) to request a visit with John Murphy, but their phone calls and messages were not returned," the claim says.

Murphy's family claim staff at Surrey Pretrial Centre failed to adequately assess the risk of placing men with a history of violence in segregation together. (Leoboudv/Wikimedia)

A physician told them Murphy's death was imminent.

"Ken and Sandra Murphy pleaded with (B.C. Corrections) and (Surrey Pretrial) staff to allow them to see their son. Following some negotiation, they were permitted a ten-minute visit but were told not to touch him."

The Murphys claim they have suffered "extreme grief, depression, anxiety and trauma" as a result of their son's death.

They're suing for negligence and wrongful death, as well as abuse of public office.

"The defendants are all Crown servants who knew or ought to have known that the conditions of confinement in which prisoners were placed in segregation/solitary confinement were extremely onerous," the lawsuit says.

"That double-bunking prisoners for 23 hours per day in those conditions without adequate assessment of risk, and without adequate staffing or safety monitoring practices could result in the death of inmates."

Both the Attorney General's office and the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General's office said they would not comment on the case while it's before the courts.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.


Jason Proctor


Jason Proctor is a reporter in British Columbia for CBC News and has covered the B.C. courts and the justice system extensively.