Two Correctional Officers Charged in Death of Inmate at New Brunswick Prison

Matthew Ryan Hines is shown in a handout photo.

New Brunswick, Canada – Two correctional officers are facing criminal charges after a lengthy investigation into the death of Matthew Hines, a 33-year-old federal inmate who asphyxiated after enduring repeated blasts of pepper spray from staff.

On Wednesday, the New Brunswick RCMP announced charges of manslaughter and criminal negligence causing death against two men, 48-year-old Alvida Ross and 31-year-old Mathieu Bourgoin.

Mr. Hines died at Dorchester Penitentiary, a Correctional Service Canada (CSC) facility 42 kilometres southeast of Moncton, on May 26, 2015. Officials initially ruled it a natural death. But after 2 1/2 years, at least four investigations and a determined effort by Mr. Hines’s family, outside investigators reviewing the case have ruled the death a criminal act.

“We are relieved that the cause of Matthew’s death in prison has been thoroughly investigated,” the family said in a statement to the media. “Our parents waited far too long to be told the truth of how Matthew died, and now we feel that it is fundamentally important to all Canadians that justice be done, and be seen to be done.”

As of Wednesday afternoon, CSC was still preparing a response.

The family’s current understanding of the death contrasts starkly with the official story they heard in the days and weeks immediately after the tragedy.

Upon Mr. Hines’s death, CSC issued a news release saying he had been discovered by staff “in need of medical attention.” Investigators with the New Brunswick RCMP quickly ruled out foul play. The family was told he died of a seizure.

By 2016, the case seemed closed. But in May of that year, authorities asked the Mounties in neighbouring Nova Scotia to review the case after new information came to light.

Around the same time, the Hines family received a copy of an internal CSC investigation. It revealed that Mr. Hines had been pepper-sprayed five times on the night of his death, challenging the official explanation of natural causes.

The family shared the report with the media, drawing high-level scrutiny to the file.

“I cannot comment on the specifics of this incident while authorities continue to examine it, but let me be clear that there can be no tolerance for inappropriate use of force or other serious misconduct,” Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said that August. “Correctional staff have difficult jobs, but any allegation of inappropriate behaviour must be thoroughly and transparently investigated, and the appropriate consequences must follow.”

In May last year, the independent Correctional Investigator, Ivan Zinger, released a report detailing his own investigation. He found numerous “staff errors and omissions” contributing to Mr. Hines’s demise and criticized all levels of CSC, from correctional officers on the scene to senior staff who released misleading information and skirted accountability.

“Nearly everything that could have gone wrong in a use of force response went wrong,” Dr. Zinger’s report states.

It also narrates a chilling series of events. At 10:11 that night, Mr. Hines, who was serving a five-year sentence for bank robbery and other crimes, was headed to his cell for the night when he turned around and started talking with a correctional officer.

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