British Columbia

Corrections officers ignored inmates' calls to help man dying in transfer van, lawsuit claims

A former inmate at a correctional facility in Prince George, B.C., is suing two corrections officers, claiming they left him to ride with the body of a fellow inmate after the man died during a transfer to another facility in the province.

Alex Joseph died during transfer from Prince George to facility in Lower Mainland in October 2018

Inmates were being transferred from the Prince George Regional Correctional Centre to the Lower Mainland on Oct. 4, 2018, when one of the inmates died in the back of the van. Another inmate is now suing two corrections officers, saying they ignored calls for help. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

A former inmate at a correctional facility in Prince George, B.C., is suing two corrections officers, claiming they left him to ride with the body of a fellow inmate after the man died during a transfer to another facility in the province.

Gordon Michael Hansen claims the two officers ignored calls for help after the late inmate appeared to pass out in the back of the transfer van on Oct. 4, 2018.

Several inmates, including Hansen, were being "involuntarily" transferred from Prince George to a different provincial facility in the Lower Mainland.

The inmate who died was later identified as Alex Joseph. Three different investigations were opened as a result of his death.

"The corrections officers ... [failed] to respond to continuous and repeated calls for help, thus not providing the proper assistance to Inmate Joseph, allowing him to die in the corrections van," reads a notice of civil claim filed on Monday.

None of Hansen's allegations have been proven in court and the defendants have not filed responses to the claim.

Officers stopped for coffee, didn't check van: lawsuit

The court documents said Joseph, 36, went into medical distress after he "ingested something" just south of Quesnel, B.C., during the ride down Highway 97.

Hansen claims he and fellow inmates starting yelling and hitting the walls of the van to get the attention of the officers riding up front, but were ignored.

"Despite all the other inmates pounding on the walls and shouting, the corrections officers did not pull over to inquire about what was happening. The corrections officers' only response to the shouting and pounding was to slam on the brakes and make the inmates fall," the lawsuit said.

The documents said the passengers were riding in "tiny compartments," seated on metal benches without seatbelts and wearing handcuffs and shackles.

Hansen alleges the officers could have seen what was going on via surveillance cameras in the van, but did not check the back of the vehicle — even after stopping for coffee in Williams Lake, about 100 kilometres from Quesnel.

The lawsuit said the corrections van "finally" stopped to check on the inmates after another 50 kilometres. By that time, Joseph was unresponsive.

A drive from Quesnel to an area that distance from Williams Lake would take roughly an hour-and-a-half.

 

Hansen is claiming damages for psychological and emotional harm, saying the officers owed himself and the other inmates a better duty of care.

The claim said Hansen has also developed post-traumatic stress disorder, nervous shock and insomnia.

The RCMP, B.C. Corrections and the B.C. Coroners Service all opened investigations into Joseph's death.

B.C. Corrections confirmed the in-custody death in an email on Tuesday.

"With this matter before the courts, we are unable to comment further," a spokesperson for the Ministry of Public Safety wrote.

The coroner's investigation is still underway.

CBC has contacted RCMP to learn the outcome of its investigation.

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