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Another family of an inmate who died in prison suing the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador

Her Majesty's Penitentiary in St. John's. — Glen Whiffen/The Telegram
Doug Neary was being held in custody at Her Majesty's Penitentiary in St. John's at the time of his death and had no criminal record. — Glen Whiffen/The Telegram

Doug Neary’s death was ‘preventable and unnecessary,' their lawyer says

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

Doug Neary’s family says it was prison staff and management’s fault that he died while behind bars, and they want the government to pay.

Neary’s widow, brother and mother have filed a lawsuit against the provincial government and are seeking compensation for the damages and losses they’ve suffered as a result of Neary’s death at Her Majesty’s Penitentiary (HMP) in August 2017.

Lawyer Bob Buckingham, who is representing the family and estate, stated in a news release Friday that they believe Neary’s death was “preventable and unnecessary.”

“Mr. Neary was an individual who needed help,” Buckingham stated. “He was improperly treated while incarcerated and, as set out in the statement of claim, his death was preventable.”

Neary was being held in custody at the time and had no criminal record.

According to the statement of claim, it was the 37-year-old’s first time in jail.

The statement of claim noted that prior to being taken to HMP on Aug. 11, he told staff he suffered from depression, social anxiety and bipolar disorder, and that he was taking psychiatric medication. 

According to the statement, when Neary, who had been deemed a high-risk inmate, injured his hand at HMP on Aug. 16, his request to see a doctor was turned down. He was also refused ice and wasn’t provided anything for pain, it stated.

“One of the correctional officers told him to stop whining,” it stated.

The next day, Neary was taken to hospital, where it was determined he had a fracture, and his hand was put in a cast.

While at the hospital under the supervision of corrections officers, the statement of claim says, Neary was shackled in handcuffs, which resulted in “intentional infliction of physical harm.” It states they also degraded him and treated him with indignity, poking fun at him and threatening him, causing him psychological harm, pain and suffering.

Throughout his incarceration, according to the statement of claim, Neary complained repeatedly to HMP psychiatrist Dr. David Craig about severe anxiety and panic attacks.

It stated Neary was taken off his mental health care medication on Aug. 28 or 29, and on Aug. 29 he informed corrections officers he feared for his safety against other inmates.

On Aug. 30, inmates were locked down for the night. Neary had placed a sheet tied to the right corner of his cell, blocking it from view and the light was left on — both breaches of prison regulations, according to the statement.

At 12:30 a.m. that night, a corrections officer conducting an hourly count of inmates saw the bed sheet covering the bars and found Neary hanging against the bars, having taken his own life.

The statement of claim says the prison failed in its obligation to provide inmates with essential health care services and didn’t take reasonable steps to ensure living conditions are safe and healthy to ensure no one committed suicide. It said they had a duty to protect vulnerable and at-risk inmates.

It said the action or inaction of HMP’s superintendent of prisons, corrections officers, supervisors and institutional medical staff, and their failure to abide by policies and procedures, resulted in Neary’s suffering and death. It said there was an abuse of a public office, breach of fiduciary duty and breach of Neary’s charter rights.

Buckingham said a lack of a proper legislative framework, inadequate training and poor management combined to create a recipe for disaster in Neary’s circumstance. 

“Despite reports going back to inquiries in 1991, following an inmate’s death, followed by the Decades of Darkness review in 2008, little has happened to bring the legislation, governing policy or the people who run the correctional facilities in this province into the modern era of understanding current societal needs when it comes to corrections and how our institutions, especially Her Majesty’s Penitentiary, should be managed,” he said.

Buckingham said he will utilize all legal means and resources to “expose the antiquated, inhumane and neo-medieval managerial approach to corrections which applies to Her Majesty’s Penitentiary.”

Neary’s family is seeking compensation for such things as funeral and burial costs, loss of income and loss of employment benefits.

It is the second lawsuit filed by a family of an inmate who was at the centre of an official probe into deaths at provincial correctional facilities over a one-year period.

Skye Martin’s family is also suing the government and prison staff after she died at the Newfoundland and Labrador Correctional Centre for Women in Clarenville on April 21, 2018, when she forced food down her throat.

In reviewing the deaths, retired RNC superintendent Marlene Jesso pointed to several systemic issues within the justice system.

No court dates have been set for either of the two cases, as they make their way through the legal process.

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