Four former jail guards have been convicted of beating up an inmate at the Toronto East Detention Centre, leaving him screaming in pain.
In a 58-page verdict, Madam Justice Geraldine Sparrow found Kuitim Collin, 36, Donald Cuthbert, 36, Robert Mondesir, 36 and Dale Sammy, 36, each guilty of causing bodily harm to then-inmate Harold Pearson on Feb. 2, 2001.
Sparrow wrote in her judgment that "an aspect" of Toronto East Detention Centre culture "it appears, condones or even encourages certain individuals in taking on disciplinary functions in breach of the rules, thereby increasing the chances that incidents such as this one will arise."
The four listened speechless to the verdict in the Ontario Court of Justice at Old City Hall as a fifth guard, Mark Dewar, was acquitted of the charge yesterday.
Dewar, 38, sighed audibly when he was acquitted. Afterward his girlfriend hugged him and some 25 fellow jail guards stood by him offering support.
Defence lawyer Harry Black was distraught over the verdict.
"It was a hugely excessive prosecution. It just ground these men and their lives into the dust for 33 months," Black said outside the courtroom. He represented three of the men.
The sentencing hearing takes place March 25.
The five were so sure they would be exonerated that they issued a premature news release before the verdict yesterday with the headline: "Five correctional officers found not guilty of assaulting inmate."
The release goes on to say "We received no support from our employers or the media. ... We turned to alcohol and prescription pills to help us deal with our anger, stress, anxiety and depression."
The complex proceedings had continued for 55 days intermittently from April 18, 2002 to Nov. 13, 2003.
"It's been three years of hell. But justice at least prevailed for me. Justice was denied for the others," Dewar said outside the courtroom.
“It's been three years of hell. But justice at least prevailed for me”
-- Mark Dewar, former guard
"I can't stay to see the rest," said Dewar as he left the courtroom while the judge adjourned for half an hour giving defence lawyers time to read her decision.
But Dewar, union president at the Toronto East Detention Centre, said it's not over yet.
The conviction puts the dream of one guard to become a Mountie on hold. Cuthbert said he'd already been accepted to the force. "It's very disappointing," Cuthbert said outside court. "We were suspended without pay. We can't get proper jobs. What do you put on your reference?"
"A travesty," is how Collin sees it. "My wife left me because of this."
All five were first suspended, then fired in September, 2001. "We're going to have to appeal this. This is ridiculous," said Sammy. "We have no pensions, we have no money. We are so in debt over paying our lawyers' fees to prove our innocence," Cuthbert said outside court.
A sobbing Pearson testified he was assaulted on Feb. 2, 2001, after being accused of deliberately bumping into a female correctional officer while he was being moved between floors.
After the alleged incident, Pearson said he was placed in segregation with two other prisoners.
He said that shortly after the other prisoners were removed, five guards entered his cell and began punching and kicking him.
Pearson testified Sammy began punching him in the chest and said "You like hitting on ladies." He claimed that the other four joined in on the beating.
Pearson was being held in jail on an assault conviction for which he received a suspended sentence. Although he had been granted bail, "a justice of the peace had refused to approve a surety for him by late afternoon, although attempts were still being made," Sparrow wrote in her judgment.
Pearson claimed he was brutally kicked and punched, sobbing in pain and at one point urinating blood.
He claimed he was left on his mattress for about 25 minutes until he was pulled out by two correctional guards, taken to hospital and released that night.
After the alleged beating, Pearson said he suffered severe recurring headaches from the tearing of his dreadlocks and injuries to his testicles.
Six guards have been charged with aggravated assault after a 26-year-old man was severely beaten at the Toronto East Detention Centre. The man, who was taken to hospital with internal bleeding, a ripped scrotum and head injuries, was in the centre Feb. 2 awaiting a trial for aggravated assault.
Police said the victim had bumped into a female guard earlier in the day and was given a misconduct, an internal discipline within the jail. The man was taken to a room and two other inmates were asked to leave, said Detective Lorne Firlotte of 41 Division. The inmate was then assaulted by as many as eight guards, he said. The beating was so severe, the man had to be taken to Scarborough General Hospital.
"He had internal and external injuries," Firlotte said. "His hair was pulled out; he had bruises and scrapes all over his body. He had internal bleeding and broken blood vessels."
When the man told nurses what had happened, a justice of the peace was brought to the hospital so he could be released on bail and not have to return to the detention centre. Soon afterward, he swore out charges against the guards and an investigation began.
"In this particular case, there was overwhelming proof that something had happened," Firlotte said.
The inmate identified six of his attackers, Firlotte said. Six prison guards turned themselves in yesterday and were charged with aggravated assault. The Toronto East Detention Centre refused to comment on the charges last night.
Donald Cuthbert, 33, Kuitim Collin, 33, Alton McFarlane 35, Carleton Johnson, 28, Robert Mondesir, 33, all from Toronto, and Dale Sammy, 33, of Pickering have been charged.
The six will appear in Scarborough court on March 21. Police are not releasing the name of the inmate until the investigation is complete.