Ottawa man with brain injury beaten in jail, report says
Corrections officer fired for unjustified and excessive use of force, charged criminally, ombudsman's report says
The battered inmate referred to in an ombudsman's report into violence and coverups at provincial jails is a 34-year-old Ottawa man named Jean Paul Rheaume, who was serving 30 days of jail time for failing to make court appearances when the alleged assault happened in 2010.
Ombudsman André Marin's report used a pseudonym — Colin — to identify Rheaume, who was "stomped" in the head and upper body two or three times by a correctional officer at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre on Oct. 23, according to the results of an internal investigation.
That correctional officer was fired for unjustified and excessive use of force, and is facing a criminal charge of assault causing bodily harm, according to the report. He is being represented by well-known Ottawa defence lawyer Michael Edelson.
Rheaume's mother, Thérèse Charron, told the CBC's Judy Trinh that he was dragged behind a car when he was three years old and suffered a brain injury.
The ombudsman's report noted that Rheaume also suffers a psychiatric disability, adding that his "behaviour can be challenging and difficult to manage."
The report goes into great detail about the incident.
Rheaume and other inmates had had a "frustrating day" on Oct. 23, 2010, after being locked in their cells to allow for a large-scale move of inmates, according to the report.
Differing accounts of what happened
What followed is described in two very different accounts by the correctional officers involved and the Correctional Investigation and Security Unit, which investigated the officers' claims.
The officers claimed Rheaume tried to leave his cell to go for a walk, then verbally threatened and attempted to assault an officer by "raising his hand aggressively," according to the report.
They reported Rheaume had to be pushed against a wall and taken down to the floor because he was combative. He was taken to a segregation cell and charged with misconduct.
Medical staff recorded multiple cuts on Rheaume's face, a large cut over his left eye, a swollen-shut right eye, as well as contusions on both ears and the back of his head, the report said. He was taken to hospital to be treated for swelling in his brain.
Senior managers call for investigation
Senior managers asked the correctional investigations unit to look into the officers' claims due to concerns the injuries didn't fit their description of what happened.
The unit determined that one or two of the officers were accidentally locked into Rheaume's cell while they were talking to him about an exchange of words, the report said. When the doors reopened, the officers took Rheaume out of the cell, "then used force to bring the now resisting [Rheaume] to the wall and then the floor."
Four of the officers involved admitted that after Rheaume had calmed down and was lying face-down on the floor with his hands cuffed behind his back and his ankles shackled, "an officer who had joined the fray placed his hands on two of his colleagues for leverage and delivered two or three kicks to Rheaume's head and upper torso."
Some of the officers called them "stomps," the report said.
CBC News has learned that the former corrections officer facing the charge of assault causing bodily harm is John Barbro. The charge against him was laid in August 2011, nearly a year after the alleged attack in October 2010.
Recanting officers cite 'code of silence'
Two of the officers told the unit they changed their stories because of the "code of silence," or showing solidarity with fellow officers.
The unit concluded that:
- Three officers had used excessive force on Rheaume.
- Eight officers and two managers became complicit and failed to complete reports correctly.
- One manager became complicit, failed to provide appropriate direction, failed to report accurately, failed to pass vital information on in a timely manner.
- Two managers and four officers witheld information and failed to provide truthful accounts of what happened.
Aside from the criminal charge against Barbro, other officers and managers involved received anywhere from three- to 20-day suspensions without pay.