New Brunswick·CBC Investigates

New documents raise new questions about man's 2011 jail death

The family of Jeffrey Ryan question why he wasn't monitored more closely before his death at the Saint John Regional Correctional Centre in 2011. In the hours before his death, Ryan showed symptoms of being gravely ill due to drug withdrawal, documents show.

Jeffrey Ryan's family wants to know why he wasn't taken to a hospital

Shawn Ryan spoke to his brother the night before he died. Jeffrey Ryan was too sick to finish the call. (CBC)

Hours before his lifeless body was found on the floor of the Saint John Regional Correctional Centre's medical cell, Jeffrey Ryan couldn't stand up.

Withdrawing from addictive prescription medication, Ryan was vomiting and seeing things. He hadn't eaten in three days.

But the 37-year-old man from Pocologan, N.B., wasn't taken to the hospital.

Instead, he spent his final hours on a mattress placed on the floor of a medical cell.

His daughter, Rebeckah Flint, says her father should have gone to the hospital.

Rebeckah Flint still has questions about how her father, Jeff Ryan, died inside the Saint John Regional Correctional Centre in 2011. (CBC)
"I don't know if he would still be alive today but he would have lived longer," Flint said.

A CBC News investigation into New Brunswick's correctional system has found that inmates frequently complain of having to go without prescribed medication in jail.

According to Ryan's family, his prescription opiates were taken away when he was arrested for driving while suspended, forcing him to go cold turkey. The drugs were prescribed after Ryan was shot in the stomach years before.

Incident reports and jail logs obtained by CBC News paint a picture of a man who was gravely ill without his pills.

His family questions why he wasn't monitored more closely in jail or taken to the hospital.

'He begged for help'

Jeffrey Ryan, pictured here on the left, died in the Saint John Regional Correctional Centre in 2011. His family questions whether he was monitored properly before his death. (CBC)
Elaine Bell, a spokeswoman with the Department of Public Safety, declined to comment on specifics about Jeff Ryan's death, citing privacy legislation.

In an emailed statement, Bell said inmates aren't allowed to bring their medication into jail for safety reasons.

"It is not our standard nor is it a policy to deny anyone any form of health care — medications or otherwise," Bell wrote.

"The medical needs of the offenders are taken very seriously and every effort is taken ‎to address their requirements in a timely manner."

Jeff Ryan was remanded in the Saint John jail on March 5, 2011, after being arrested for driving while suspended.

He called his brother on the phone the day before his death, telling him his body was shutting down and he was having trouble breathing.

His voice was strained, his brother said, and he could barely talk on the phone.

"He begged for help," Shawn Ryan said. "But it don't do any good."

Withdrawal symptoms

The family of 37-year-old Jeffrey Ryan question why he didn't go to the hospital while detoxing from his Oxycontin prescription in jail. (CBC)
On the day before his death, Jeff Ryan could barely walk. An incident report shows he collapsed to the floor in a hallway and triggered a medical code in the jail.

After drinking a can of Ensure and taking stomach medication, he was sent back to his bunk.

A few hours later, a nurse filed another report about the inmate's withdrawal symptoms.

"Gait very unsteady and direction poor. Picking at the air and seeing things. Continues with reported nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Hand tremors grossly prominent."

Jeff Ryan was sent to the medical cell and given a mattress on the floor.

At 11 p.m. on March 7, 2011, documents show a correctional officer was sent to check on Jeff Ryan after he had trouble standing.

"He appeared to be unstable, so I informed him he should go back on his mattress on the floor," correctional officer Chad Snyder wrote in an incident report.

He placed a sheet over Jeff Ryan and left the cell.

Appeared to be asleep

Throughout the night, correctional officers watched Jeff Ryan on a computer screen.

Logs show he was marked as appeared to be sleeping at every 15 minute check until 5:43 a.m.

That's when a correctional officer noticed he'd been sleeping on his stomach and not moving for "approximately a half an hour."

When they went to check on him, Ryan's body was cold and stiff. He was pronounced dead by paramedics at 6:03 a.m.

"When I attempted to turn inmate [redacted], I noticed that rigor mortis had obviously set in and he was cool to the touch," supervisor George Breen wrote in his report. (Breen declined to comment when reached by CBC News, referring questions to the department.)

It's not clear how long Jeff Ryan had been gone before someone checked on him in person.

Rigor mortis happens when muscles stiffen after death, according to Dr. Marnie Wood, a forensic pathologist in Nova Scotia's medical examiner's office.

The time it takes to happen varies by person, she said, but can appear a half an hour to an hour after someone has died.

Family wants inquest

A heavily redacted inmate death report obtained by CBC News shows that correctional staff in New Brunswick have been flagged for a practice of observing medical cells on video monitors after 11 p.m. instead of checking on them in person.

That, the report says, violates policy on supervising inmates who require special observation.

Bell didn't say whether Jeff Ryan was properly monitored whether he was in jail, only that "the method and timing of checks on offenders" depends on the person's medical and security needs.

CBC News asked to see video footage of Jeff Ryan from that night.

The department has declined to provide the footage, citing privacy concerns - something his family questions, because he was in a cell by himself.

His family would like to see an inquest called into his death to prevent similar deaths in the future.

"It just breaks my heart that he passed away in jail," his daughter said.

"He begged for help and they didn't do anything."

A 'devastated' father

Nelson Ryan wished he could hire a lawyer to learn more about how his son died in the Saint John Regional Correctional Centre in 2011. Nelson died in February. (CBC)
Nelson Ryan, Jeff's father, told CBC News last summer that his son was a good guy who would have given the shirt off his back.

The two lived together and he was "devastated" when his son died.

Nelson Ryan dreamed of hiring a lawyer to get answers about his son's death. But he couldn't afford it.

"[By the time] time you get a lawyer to go through all that stuff, it's going to run into a lot of money that I ain't got," Nelson Ryan said in an August 2016 interview.

"So I figure I'd better just mind my business."

In February, Nelson Ryan had a massive heart attack.

He died without ever getting the answers he wanted.