Nfld. & Labrador

Family of Jonathan Henoche sues N.L. government over prison death

Henoche was killed at Her Majesty's Penitentiary in 2019, and his family now seeks damages in a civil suit.

Guards failed to protect 33-year-old accused killer from harm, family argues

Inmate Jonathan Henoche was killed while awaiting trial at Her Majesty's Penitentiary. (Jonathan Henoche/Facebook)

The family of a man killed at Her Majesty's Penitentiary two years ago is suing the Newfoundland and Labrador government over his death.

Jonathan Henoche died by homicide on Nov. 6, 2019, according to a ruling from the province's chief medical examiner. Nine prison guards are facing charges related to his death, ranging from manslaughter to failure to provide the necessities of life.

Two of his sisters, Debbie and Pauline Henoche; his grandmother, Maria Merkuratsuk; and his brother, Dennis Merkuratsuk; are also now seeking damages related to Henoche's alleged treatment, accusing the justice system of failing to care for the 33-year-old, who they say had fetal alcohol syndrome and impulse control issues.

The family argues in its suit that Henoche "had the right not to be subject to cruel and unusual treatment or punishment" through neglect of policies or medical treatment for his disability. Permitting him to die without applying adequate medical treatment, the suit suggests, also constitutes cruelty. 

The suit, led by St. John's lawyer Bob Buckingham, also offers alleged details into the events preceding his death, which have repeatedly been shielded from public view.

"As a result of the defendant having knowledge of Mr. Henoche's inability to control his impulses the penitentiary management instituted a procedure directing staff that Mr. Henoche was not to be alone with [a] female during his period of incarceration," the document alleges.

But on Nov. 6, 2019, it continues, a female guard entered Henoche's cell alone, carrying a meal tray.

The suit says Henoche told the guard he liked her pen and reached for it, but didn't take it; later, the guard returned with another correctional officer and allegedly assaulted Henoche after an "exchange" between them.

Her Majesty's Penitentiary was built in the 1850s, and has repeatedly been the subject of complaints from inmates and advocates. (Paul Daly/The Canadian Press)

The alleged assault prompted a "code grey," sending a stream of guards into Henoche's unit. He was taken away and died later that day, the document says.

The plaintiffs argue the guards had a duty to protect Henoche from dangerous situations and ensure he was not presented with opportunities in which he could not control his impulses, and that when the two guards entered his unit to confront him, "he was no danger to anyone."

They also say Henoche was shackled, hooded and under stress on the floor of a segregation cell just before he died and did not receive immediate medical treatment. 

HMP understaffed, undertrained, family alleges

The beleaguered St. John's jail where Henoche's life ended has found itself under the spotlight multiple times for inmate deaths in recent years. Three men have died by suicide within its walls since 2017.

The family argues that the penitentiary was understaffed, that its guards were not properly trained and that they did not follow procedures to protect Henoche from harm.

They also argue the prison failed to recognize "the changing needs of inmates in recent years," particularly those with disabilities.

The Department of Justice told The Canadian Press in an emailed statement late last year that correctional officers are trained in mental health awareness and that the department "recently hired a training manager to ensure training is provided to meet the needs of an ever-changing inmate population."

Henoche's death left behind two children. His family is seeking damages related to the cost of his burial, the loss of his companionship, grief and panic upon learning of his death and the costs of raising his children.

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