'His life mattered': Family wants justice for inmate allegedly beaten in London, Ont., jail

Family members of Brandon Marchant are grieving the loss of a man they say was a fun-loving daredevil who was always full of energy. They're also demanding answers about how the 32-year-old died, after he was found unresponsive in a London, Ont., jail.

Brandon Marchant, 32, died July 6 after brief time at Elgin Middlesex Detention Centre

Dar Marchant, the stepmom of former London, Ont., inmate Brandon Marchant, who died earlier this month, sits with the 32-year-old's picture and an urn with his ashes. (Kate Dubinski/CBC News)

Even as they grieve the loss of a fun-loving daredevil, family members of Brandon Marchant are demanding answers about how the 32-year-old died after he was found unresponsive in a London, Ont., jail cell. 

Other inmates at the Elgin Middlesex Detention Centre have spoken to local lawyers, alleging they heard Marchant being assaulted by several guards on July 2 after a dispute about a towel.

London police are now involved in the investigation, as is the Office of the Chief Coroner, Ontario's Ministry of the Solicitor General and the Special Investigations Unit (SIU). 

Marchant is the 19th person to die at the jail since 2009.

"I want accountability. I want justice for Brandon," said Dar Maynard, his stepmom. "He mattered. His life mattered." 

A large funeral gathering is planned for Saturday, with thousands — including members of outlaw motorcycle clubs — expected to attend a "peace ride" to the Exeter Road jail where Marchant was before he was taken to hospital, where he died July 6. 

"People are coming from all over Ontario, friends, family members, lawyers and families of other victims of the jail," said Melissa Stokes, Marchant's sister. 

"We want to have a peaceful ride to the jail to put a cross up for my brother." 

On Monday, memorial crosses outside the EMDC put up by other family members who've lost loved ones were taken down by jail or provincial officials, after a grievance board ruled they put undue psychological stress on guards.

A memorial consisting of 18 crosses bearing the names of inmates who have died at the Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre in London was taken down Monday after the union representing jail workers said it created psychological stress for its members. (Kerry McKee/CBC)

Many of those family members plan to be at the jail on Saturday to show support for Marchant's relatives. There will also be an Indigenous healing circle and smudging, as Marchant had Ojibway roots.  

"We want to be there for Brandon, and we also want to be there for the other inmates and the people who have come forward with information about his death," said Sheena Bowden, Marchant's sister-in-law. "This has to stop happening at the jail." 

Family members say Marchant was a rambunctious prankster, popular with friends and women. He was a mixed martial arts fighter and worked in construction. He'd been in trouble with the law before, but was hard working and loved his family. 

"We want answers. We want people to be held accountable," said Bowden. 

From hospital to jail

The day before he was found unresponsive in his segregation cell, Marchant was involved in a car crash on July 1 on Highway 401.

Marchant's nickname was BamBam, according to his family. He was an MMA fighter and worked in construction. (Marchant Family )

At the time, Oxford OPP said two passengers were taken to hospital and the driver, Marchant, fled on foot and was arrested a short time later. He was taken to hospital without incident, police said, to be treated for injuries from the crash. 

The SIU said it was notified that day and began investigating. The police watchdog looks into whether officers are responsible for injuries or deaths that happen during interactions with officers. 

OPP charged Marchant with several offences, including dangerous operation of a motor vehicle, failure to stop after an accident, possession of property obtained by crime and driving while suspended. 

When Maynard wanted to see him in Victoria Hospital, she was told she wasn't allowed to visit. 

"The next day, we don't hear anything. Then we hear they've taken him to jail so we think, 'OK, he's well enough that he doesn't have to be in the hospital any more." 

Marchant was taken to EMDC on the afternoon of July 2. Inmates who have spoken to the family and lawyer Kevin Egan, who represents inmates, say Marchant got into an argument with guards over whether he could keep a towel in his segregation cell. They say he wanted to use it as a pillow. 

Egan said he was told two guards held Marchant down while others beat him. One inmate was on the phone to his girlfriend at the time, and was so alarmed by what he was hearing that he held the phone out so his girlfriend could hear, Egan said.

The Elgin Middlesex Detention Centre on Exeter Road. Marchant is the 19th person to die at the jail since 2009. (Kerry McKee/CBC)

"The next morning, [we] learn that he's on life-support in the hospital. How is that possible?" Stokes said. 

None of the allegations have been proven. Calls to the union that represents corrections officers have not been returned. 

"Given this matter is the subject of multiple investigations, it would be inappropriate to provide comment," wrote Brent Ross, spokesperson for the Ministry of the Solicitor General. 

Guards back at work

Two other inmates have also come forward about what they heard and saw, Egan said. One describes Marchant yelling that he was sorry, at about 6:30 p.m., he said.  

Inmates are supposed to be checked every few minutes when they're in segregation, and more often if they've just come from a hospital. 

Egan said he's troubled the guards accused by inmates of assaulting Marchant were back working as early as Wednesday. 

"They're back and interacting with witnesses. I'm worried for two reasons: The safety of the individuals who came forward, and the integrity of the investigation." 

Family members were able to visit Marchant in hospital after he was readmitted July 3. He never regained consciousness and they assumed his injuries were from the July 1 car crash, though he had swelling on his face and head, and on his ankles. 

Egan wrote a letter to the superintendent of the jail last week, outlining his concerns that the corrections officers involved may intimidate witnesses. He said Thursday he has not received a response.