Segregation area of the Whitehorse Correctional Centre. According to a former WCC inmate, he was left in a cell covered in his own feces for hours in 2018, despite recommendations from a nurse to remove him from the unsanitary conditions. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)

Whitehorse Correctional Centre left inmate in feces-covered cell in 2018

“I don’t know what happened to me … My mental state started going, I started losing it.”

A Whitehorse Correctional Centre (WCC) inmate was left in a cell covered in his own feces for hours in 2018, despite recommendations from a nurse to remove him from the unsanitary conditions.

The man, a Yukon resident, spoke to the News and provided documents related to his incarceration, including medical records and reports, on the condition that his name would not be published.

“I don’t know what happened to me,” he said in an interview Oct. 28. “… My mental state started going, I started losing it.”

Court records show that the man was arrested on several assault and weapons-related charges in October 2017 and sent to the WCC to await trial. The charges were all eventually withdrawn or dismissed, and he was released in April 2018.

According to the documents, the man’s behaviour grew increasingly erratic and violent during his time in jail. He was disciplined several times for threatening to harm or kill corrections officers, and for breaking or destroying things including a mattress, broom and window.

Nurses’ notes describe him as pleasant and calm some times, while quick to anger and aggressive at others.

Due to his behaviour, the man spent significant amounts of time in segregation and the secure living unit. He was also prescribed a number of anti-anxiety, antipsychotic, attention deficit disorder and sleeping medications, some of which he reacted poorly to.

His mental health issues appear to have peaked on March 15, 2018, when, in a fit of frustration, he covered himself and his cell in feces.

According to an adjudication report, the man attended a hearing that morning for threatening to kick in a corrections officer’s teeth but was “removed.”

“When I came back from adjudication, I smeared shit on myself,” the man recalled. “I don’t know why I did that, but I was in a state of anger … my mind wasn’t all there.”

A corrections officer’s report states that he was “summoned” to segregation by a colleague around 8:05 p.m. “as a situation was arising” with the man.

At a briefing, the officer learned the man “had smeared feces on his cell window, meal hatch and covered one of his cameras,” and was “also informed that (the inmate) had begun to vomit quite frequently.”

The officer instructed a colleague to get “bio hazard suits” in case staff had to enter the man’s cell, “which was layered in vomit, feces and toilet water.”

The man said he remembers lying in a “fetal position” in his bed, feeling “so sick” and continuously vomiting.

“That’s all I kept doing,” he said, “is puking and puking and puking.”

Three corrections officers, wearing biohazard suits, approached the man’s cell around 8:50 p.m. and brought him, handcuffed, to the shower area.

He was ordered to clean himself, after which he was assessed by a nurse. She determined his “vomiting was mostly likely caused by the smell/presence of feces in his cell.”

Under the direction of the manager of correctional services, the man was told that he would not be moved to a new cell, but would be required to clean his soiled one.

The man, however, refused to clean his cell. He was put back into it anyway at around 9:20 p.m.

“They let me out to have a shower and then put me back in the same fucking thing,” the man said, explaining that he thought the corrections officers, who had biohazard suits on, should have been the ones to clean.

“… Like, what was the point of even having a shower?”

The nurse’s notes state that she told the manager of correctional services that night that “it was not advisable” to leave the man in a soiled cell and later, again, that leaving him in the cell “was medically not appropriate.” The manager, according to her notes, first said he would let his superior know about her concerns, and then that he would “take care of that part.”

An entry marked 11:55 p.m. in her notes says she told the man he would feel better if he cleaned his cell.

An adjudication report shows that the man was charged for disobeying orders to clean the feces and later sentenced to nine days in segregation.

It’s unclear how much longer the man spent in the soiled cell following the shower.

The nurse’s notes indicate the cell had been cleaned by the time she saw him again in the late afternoon of March 16, although the smell of feces lingered until at least March 17.

The man, meanwhile, told the News he was certain it had been 72 hours. He explained that while he wasn’t actively keeping track of time, there are routines — for example, lights being turned on or off — that take place at the same time every day .

“I swear on my grandchildren, I swear on my children,” he said. “I’ll get down on my knees and swear to God.”

He could not explain the discrepancy between his memory and the nurse’s notes.

The man also said his cell was only cleaned after another inmate phoned the Yukon Human Rights Commission, and that he was temporarily moved to a clean cell while a group of inmates cleaned the soiled one with “a broom and a mop, no biohazards, no chemicals, no nothing.”

Reached for comment, Yukon Human Rights Commission director Jessica Lott Thompson said the commission does not confirm or deny the existence of complaints.

The documents do not make explicit mention of when the man’s cell was cleaned or who cleaned it.

The man said he filed a human rights complaint in May 2018 and that the Yukon government offered to settle that October.

In an email, Department of Justice spokesperson Fiona Azizaj confirmed “the parties involved reached resolution for this complaint.”

The man, however, said he now feels he “jumped too fast” to the settlement and that it didn’t address “the moral of the story.”

“It’s not the money that I want, I want justice for what happened to me in jail,” he said, describing the experience was “very traumatizing.”

“I want an apology and justice on the part of the correctional centre allowing their staff deal with a mental illness (in that way) … They took advantage of that and left me in my own feces,” he said.

“I want somebody to be accountable for what happened.”

In her email, Azizaj wrote that the “Government of Yukon is unable to provide any further comments on the specifics of this situation.”

She noted, however, that the Department of Justice “has taken steps to change the approach to segregation at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre,” including “putting in place additional oversight and accountability, both inside and outside the institution” and “developing individual care plans for all segregation placements.”

The government also, earlier this fall, tabled proposed amendments to the Corrections Act that would place strict limits on how long an inmate may be placed in segregation and circumstances or conditions under which inmates must not be held in segregation.

Among those circumstances is if an inmate “has a mental disorder.”

Looking back at that period in his life, the man said he most strongly recalls feeling “hopeless … straight-up hopeless.”

“Like, ‘Is this my life? Really?’” he said. “I’m in here for false accusations … I didn’t do anything. That’s what blows my mind, how they treated me, and I was innocent.”

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

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