Michael Nehass case plods on

Yesterday it looked like the public was finally going to know how long Michael Nehass has been in solitary confinement. Now, the Yukon Department of Justice says there is a typo in the report it filed with the court.

Yesterday it looked like the public was finally going to know how long Michael Nehass has been in solitary confinement.

Now, the Yukon Department of Justice says there is a typo in the report it filed with the court.

Nehass was in court this week for a sentencing hearing on charges he got while in jail.

The 31-year-old is asking the judge to consider whether his treatment behind bars for the past three years has violated his rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

This week’s hearing focussed on the specific facts of the crimes. A separate hearing will be held in March on any charter violations.

At the end of the day Tuesday a remand report was filed with the court that appears to layout all of Nehass’s internal convictions.

The most alarming was a 301-day sentence for the time he destroyed the segregation unit and climbed into the ceiling.

Now, the Department of Justice says that’s not accurate.

This morning, justice spokesperson Caitlin Kerwin said the 301 figure was a mistake.

“The record will be corrected as soon as possible to reflect the actual penalty assigned in the incident in question,” she said.

Kerwin said the number was incorrect by about 10 fold.

It looks like the public will likely have to wait to March to get a complete picture. But the issue of solitary confinement was touched on this week.

A corrections officer testified Monday that in the 22 months he has worked at the jail, Nehass has only been in general population for about an hour.

It was not clear from Clayton Poberezny’s testimony how much time Nehass spent in segregation and how much time was in the jail’s secure living unit.

As Poberezny explained it, the segregation unit is a punitive measure – a consequence for breaking the rules. The secure living unit is not punitive, he said.

In segregation, inmates are kept locked in their cell for 23 hours a day. In the secure living unit, inmates are still kept away from the general population but might get extra time outside of their cell. Everything depends on if anyone else is in the unit and if they get along, he said.

According to the remand report, by May 2013 Whitehorse jail staff concluded that Nehass’s behaviour had gotten to the point where he couldn’t be managed outside of the segregation unit.

He was moved from the old jail to the new facility in March 2012. He served time in segregation on and off after that point. The report shows instances of damaging property, threatening others and fighting.

By May 2013, “his behaviour had escalated making him unmanageable outside of the segregation unit,” the report from November says.

During that time he has spent approximately six months in the secure living unit, it says.

“Concern for Mr. Nehass’s mental health has been an ongoing issue through the last year and a half. He has demonstrated a great deal of paranoia and has been suffering from delusional behaviour throughout this time,” the report states.

“He has consistently resisted all attempts at intervention by psychiatrists, psychologists and elders.”

Last year Nehass pleaded guilty to five charges related to his behaviour behind bars. That includes mischief, uttering threats, assaulting a corrections officer by spitting on him and attempting to break out of the unit.

It will be up to judge Donald Luther to decide what, if any, impact Nehass’s conditions have had on his crimes.

“As a human being, if someone was torturing you, you would defend yourself?” Nehass asked at one point during Poberezny’s cross examination.

His case got national attention last year when he was brought naked to a video court appearance, pinned to the ground by guards in riot gear.

Nehass insists that he does not have a mental illness.

Last year a judge found him unfit to stand trial, but that was overturned by the Yukon Review Board.

Nehass says he believes in a deep-rooted conspiracy involving many high ranking officials in the RCMP, the government and the justice system. He is convinced that his legal problems stem from those powerful people trying to keep him from speaking publicly.

He insists he is not experiencing a mental illness, but “emotional distress” from the way he is being treated.

This week’s hearings heard details of how Nehass damaged his segregation unit on two occasions.

On June 5, 2013, during his hour outside his cell, Nehass began gathering items like bed sheets blankets and paper and placing them outside the other inmate’s door.

Poberezny said he called a “code yellow” to get assistance from other officers because he thought Nehass might be looking to start a fire.

He told the court Nehass came over, shook his hand and said something to the effect off “this is nothing against you, this is about the centre.”

He ripped two phones off the wall, using a plastic chair and his hands. He used the phone to smash windows and at some point knocked a camera off the ceiling.

It was about 45 minutes before the emergency response team arrived, he said.

By that point Nehass had knocked a lock off the door to the utility room.

The team came in and set off a flash-bang grenade.

Corrections officer William Riches, who led the response team in, testified to going over to the pipe chase, a compartment that holds plumbing and electrical, looking up and seeing Nehass’s face.

He hit him in the face with riot spray, he said.

At that point, there was some uncertainty over whether Nehass could somehow get out of the building from there, Riches said. It turns out that would not have been possible.

Riches testified that his father, assistant deputy minister of justice Bob Riches, was brought to the scene with RCMP officers to be briefed.

His father has a previous relationship with Nehass, Riches testified.

In the end it was a conversation with Bob Riches that led to Nehass coming down from the ceiling.

About two hours into the incident, Nehass called down from inside the ceiling.

He said he wanted to talk to the ADM as long as there was a camera present.

The younger Riches testified that Nehass said he “wanted to get his rights” like clothes and phone calls.

The court saw many videos from that day including the one of Bob Riches talking with Nehass. The sound on that video makes it difficult to hear what Nehass is saying.

There is no video of Nehass coming out of the pipe chase. The younger Riches told the court the battery had run out.

On the stand Riches admitted that “I think a lot of things went wrong to be able to get into that chase.”

He testified that if that team had gotten to the unit faster than the 45 minutes it took them, they may not have needed to use the level of force that they did.

The team should be ready to go in 10 or 15 minutes he said. He said things have improved since then.

Nehass damaged his segregation unit a second time that August.

He again took the phones off the walls and broke glass. This time he went back to his cell when the response unit arrived.

Nehass was again getting his hour outside of his cell.

He is shackled and wearing handcuffs but does not have a shirt on.

Poberezny testified that a manager told him that Nehass need to put his shirt on.

That would have involved putting Nehass back in his cell to take his handcuffs off.

Officers were not allowed to have contact with Nehass without handcuffs, he said.

He testified that it is not uncommon for inmates to be shirtless.

The two incidents cost about $35,000 just to replace the glass, the court heard.

While cross examining Poberezny, estimated that about five other people had been held in the segregation unit that year.

Nehass, appeared to be trying to give the judge some context.

He asked if Poberezny remembered that at the time of the first incident he couldn’t get a lawyer on the phone because of the jail’s new phone system.

He asked if Poberezny knew that his mother was dying at the time.

Poberezny agreed that Nehass had complained that his mother was dying and that the institution would not let him call her.

Contact Ashley Joannou at

ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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