Michael Nehass has represented himself for the last few days of his court hearing over his treatment at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre.
The hearing is scheduled to wrap up today. Earlier this week Nehass’s lawyer, Sarah Rauch, said she could no longer represent him.
Nehass has repeatedly said he wanted to fire Rauch. On Wednesday Rauch told Yukon Supreme Court Justice Scott Brooker that ethically she could not continue to represent him.
The legal code of ethics says she has to withdraw as counsel if her client fires her, Rauch told the court.
She is the fourth lawyer that has represented Nehass since he was arrested in December 2011.
Rauch also told the judge she was not comfortable being made amicus in this case either. An amicus is a lawyer appointed by the court to make sure a person’s rights are being protected when they are self-represented.
She suggested if an amicus is appointed it should be someone without a previous relationship with Nehass.
For now, Nehass is on his own to argue that his time at the WCC – where he has mostly been locked away from other inmates – violated his rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
This includes the time he was carried, without any clothes on, to a court-ordered video appearance in front of a judge.
Nehass has also complained about being kept in shackles in jail for long periods of time causing abrasions on his body.
Testimony from jail staff on the issue has varied. The court heard from one person who was concerned enough to write a report. Another has testified he was told Nehass had tightened the shackles himself to cause the marks.
On Wednesday guard Tyler McConnell said he’d seen Nehass tighten the shackles above abrasions that were already on his ankles, presumably to stop them from sliding down back into place.
Other accusations include that Nehass was forced to wear restraints even when inside his cell.
Multiple guards have testified to never seeing that happen. But one former guard told the court there were times Nehass was forced to wear restraints for several days.
Multiple guards who were on duty while Nehass was brought to the video court appearance without any clothes on in January 2014 also testified.
The judge had ordered Nehass appear, the court heard.
Correctional officer Geoffrey Callahan testified he was asked to assemble a use-of-force team after Nehass refused to go.
Callahan said after he approached the cell Nehass jumped out of bed naked.
The court heard the audio of that interaction recorded on a hand-held video camera.
The video was played for the judge at an earlier hearing but had not been made public.
In the audio, a clearly agitated Nehass can be heard saying, “You’re going to take me down naked?”
The guard says no, they want Nehass dressed.
After Nehass refuses multiple orders to turn around and co-operate, the guards come in.
Callahan testified that after a brief struggle the guards were able to get Nehass to the ground in handcuffs and shackles.
The court has seen clips of him being carried by guards out of his cell, down hallways and into the room where the video appearance was to take place.
In those clips it appears he has a towel draped over his lower half.
About four months after the incident, not long after it became national news, investigators with the jail’s Investigations and Standards Office, or ISO, were brought in to look at what happened.
Investigator Kurt Bringsli told the court his office made nine recommendations to the jail to change procedural steps, like creating new, more detailed forms.
They found, after reviewing reports and videos of the incident, that the use of force was reasonable considering the circumstances.
Bringsli admitted that Nehass was never interviewed as part of the investigation.
He testified that it is not in accordance with policy for inmates to be carried by their shackles the way Nehass was, but that mistake was not enough to qualify as unreasonable force, he said.
Bringsli said the ISO was only made aware of what happened in May of that year.
Nehass, on the other hand, insists he himself had made a complaint to the ISO much earlier.
It’s not clear yet what being self-represented will mean for Nehass going forward. He is being assessed for a possible dangerous or long-term offender designation.
Both of those labels could have an impact on Nehass’s punishment when he is finally sentenced for the crimes that landed him there in 2011.
At the most extreme end, a dangerous offender designation could mean he is jailed indefinitely.
The complex legal arguments about whether he deserves the label will have to happen in front of the judge.
Contact Ashley Joannou at