EMDC jail death drug-related, not suicide, sources say

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The frustrated family of a man who died at London’s provincial jail can’t get details from officials about his death and care while in custody.

But information from inside the institution has suggested a troubling picture of a man going through severe opioid withdrawal, perhaps without proper supervision — an issue raised repeatedly at inquests into custody deaths in London and the rest of the province.

“No one has given us anything,” Christina Parry said about the family’s request for information from officials about her father’s death.

That includes the jail, Ontario’s corrections ministry, London police and the Ontario’s coroner’s office, she said.

“We haven’t got any infor-mation.”

Raymond George Major, 52, died June 6 after being found unresponsive in his cell at Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre.

He’d been arrested June 2, charged with being in a stolen vehicle and possessing drugs and false identity documents.

Jail officials have told the family he died of suicide.

Sources have told the family that Major died by some manner after a harrowing few days of withdrawing from opioids, during a lockdown that might have limited how much monitoring he received.

The Free Press has been able to confirm that narrative from one source.

Her father had served in the Canadian military in Cyprus, and after a car accident in his 20s, had been put on painkillers, Parry said.

In later years, he drank regularly but turned to painkillers again a few years ago, she said.

He had been in jail previously on a suicide watch, Parry said. But the family doesn’t know if he was under a similar watch this time or if he was getting care for his addiction and withdrawal.

Officials at EMDC told her to ask police for details about the death, and police told her to ask EMDC officials, Parry said.

As a last resort, the family wrote to Ontario’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy office.

In a letter of reply the family provided to The London Free Press, freedom of information manager Nicole St. Pierre says access to EMDC records has been denied “as the records concern a matter that is currently under investigation.”

The records in question may be used for hearings into actions by specific correctional staff, the letter states.

That means the family could face the long wait, typically a year or two, for a coroner’s inquest to get any answers.

It’s typical for officials to stall on providing information to families, a system that puts loved ones in a terrible holding pattern, London lawyer Kevin Egan said.

“Families want closure and they can’t get it. Then it all comes flooding back a couple of years later,” said Egan, who represents hundreds of inmates and their families, including Major’s family.

Most families who contact him want inquests to be held in order to prevent similar deaths, Egan said.

But they must wait years for the inquest, then at least a year for a response from the province to recommendations, if the recommendations are even accepted, he said.

Concerns about how inmates in Ontario are monitored and treated for drug and alcohol withdrawal have been raised dozens of times by juries at coroner’s inquests into custody deaths.

A Free Press analysis published last fall show that in the 61 inquests from 2007 to 2016 where juries made recommendations, 23 per cent of those juries suggested improvements to drug and alcohol withdrawal care.

Those recommendations seem to have had little effect.

Just last November, at the inquest into the death of Jamie High at EMDC, the jury again recommended improvements to training staff in drug and alcohol withdrawal.

But the province did commit in December to hiring more mental health-care staff, including nurses, social workers, recreational staff and psychologists.

EMDC will be getting 23 of the new staff positions, a ministry spokesperson said this week.



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