Inquest into prison killings of Sheldon McKay, Durval Tavares underway in Winnipeg
Inquest examines killings of Stony Mountain inmates in 2005 and 2006
Inquests into the deaths of two Manitoba inmates began in Winnipeg on Wednesday, starting with testimony from a corrections officer about the death of Sheldon McKay.
The 30-year-old was killed in 2006 in Stony Mountain Institution. He was found dead, face down on a bed in his cell. Investigators later determined the cause of death was asphyxia, and his death was a homicide.
Four people were later charged and convicted in his death.
The year before, Durval David Tavares, 40, was killed in a prison bathroom. The cause of death was blunt-force trauma, and three people were later convicted in the death.
Crown attorney Kathrine Basarab called Laura Kirby to testify on Wednesday. Kirby was a corrections officer at Stony Mountain when McKay was killed. She's now a corrections manager.
McKay was given a life sentence for the 2000 stabbing death of a Winnipeg teen and had been serving time in Saskatchewan until he requested a transfer to a medium-security unit at Stony.
"It was ultimately approved, so medium security was decided on Dec. 4, 2005," Kirby said.
McKay was from Winnipeg, so the transfer brought him closer to home — but also closer to gang ties.
He was a member of the Indian Posse street gang, something officers considered in his transfer.
Ultimately he was placed in the same unit as other members of the street gang — Unit 5, Range F, Cell 3. Inmates with "compatabilities" are placed into "security threat groups," the inquest heard.
Members of the gang were segregated from the general population and weren't allowed to seek employment within the jail.
Corrections worker Kirk McIntosh testified McKay was friendly with officers and would normally stand by their desk and talk to them.
He said McKay was a high-ranking member of the Indian Posse.
"He told us he was high-ranking. It was no secret," said McIntosh. "He had the phone whenever he wanted to, and a phone is a high commodity."
But McIntosh said the day they found his body, McKay wasn't hanging around the desk the way he normally did, and officers hadn't seen him all morning.
"We didn't really realize that Mr. McKay wasn't hanging by our desk — because he normally does. [Then, we thought] 'Where's this guy been? I haven't seen him all morning.' That's when something in the back of your head says, 'Something's not right,'" said McIntosh.
'I knew it was bad'
The morning McKay was found dead, he was supposed to have a visitor, McIntosh said, and inmates often dressed up and prepared early for visitors.
He asked an inmate to tell McKay he had a visitor, but McKay didn't appear, so McIntosh told his partner he was going to check on him.
"As soon as I opened the door, I saw Sheldon McKay laying there," he said. "You get to know them. You count them every day. You get to know how they sleep. When he was laying there, he was laying exactly like he was sleeping. You'd never know anything was wrong. "
But when he went inside the cell, he knew McKay was dead, he said.
"The room was disheveled, which was uncommon for Sheldon McKay," he said. "I used to work at hospital, so I've seen dead bodies before, and dead bodies have a smell to them. When he opened the door, it all came back to me. I knew it was bad."
'It was going to get done'
There were cameras on the unit where McKay was killed, but they only recorded when staff pressed a button to begin recording.
"If these guys co-ordinated themselves and pre-planned this, it was going to get done," he said. "The camera would only tape it, that's all. The camera would only tell you who, so you wouldn't have to do too much investigation."
McIntosh said he doesn't think anything short of a completely segregated prison could have prevented McKay's death.
"Nothing short of an entire, 100 per cent segregated institution and keeping everybody to themselves would prevent [a killing]. If these guys want to get something done like that, it's going to get done," he said.
'Refused to provide information'
RCMP Sgt. Glenn Sells testified on Wednesday afternoon about the investigation into McKay's death.
He interviewed about 20 people, he said.
"They refused to provide information in the death of Mr. McKay."
The case eventually went cold until a fellow gang member was interviewed by Winnipeg police about a number of homicides, including McKay's.
Sells said he thought a more "robust intelligence network" in correctional facilities could reveal problems on a unit or within a group of people and potentially prevent deaths like McKay's.
He also thought cameras that function around the clock might help.
with files from CBC's Caroline Barghout