Families hope for answers about deaths of loved ones inside jail
Kathy Rumleski, CTV London
Published Wednesday, February 27, 2019 4:22PM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, March 19, 2019 5:16PM EDT
When the large police officer showed up at her door on Jan. 7, 2018, Janice Pigeau immediately wondered what happened to one of her sons.
The London woman remembers it was a bright, sunny morning, but the officer's presence turned her world dark quickly.
"I have five sons. I knew Jamie was at the EMDC (Elgin-Middlesex Dentention Centre) so I'm thinking, 'OK, well he's safe. He's taken care of. What could the other four have been up to?'
"When the officer said that Jamie had passed away, it was like being struck by thunder. I just couldn't believe it. To this day, I'm still shocked that it happened. He was in the care and control of the Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre," Janice says.
His death made it 13 inmates in the last 10 years who have died inside EMDC.
In 2018, families who have lost loved ones there decided they needed to come forward and find a way to prevent anyone else from dying inside those walls.
So there have been protests outside EMDC on Exeter Road every weekend since last summer. The families stand by the 13 crosses that dot the lawn in front of the facility and represent the inmates who died there.
“We want changes for future inmates,” Jamie's father Roger Pigeau says.
His son, the youngest of eight children, was diagnosed with ADHD when he was young. But Janice believes a bipolar disorder and anxiety were likely his afflictions.
She remembers him as big hearted and with a wacky sense of humour. “We miss him,” she says quietly. “He was fighting for changes.”
She believes that fight may have cost him his life. “In my heart I know he was silenced."
Jamie kept logs and other paperwork documenting the conditions at the facility, including the length of time going without a shower or without yard time. He also talked to media about conditions inside the jail.
Janice refers to her son as a frequent customer at EMDC. He was doing time for driving offences and for thefts.
He met Adam Kargus at EMDC and they became friends, sharing a love of art. A creative man, Jamie would write home to his mother with decorative calligraphy and artwork on the paper.
After Kargus was beaten to death on Oct. 31, 2013 by his cellmate Anthony George, who pleaded guilty and received a life sentence, Pigeau’s mental health really took a hit.
"Jamie was on the range that night,” his mother says. “He suffered night terrors…PTSD, psychotic shock. He was on 17 pills a day.”
He had some treatment at the St. Lawrence Valley Correctional and Treatment Centre in Brockville.
After his death, the bloodwork results showed Jamie had morphine, fentanyl and cocaine in his system.
She says her son's bloodwork showed 19 milligrams of fentanyl and the coroner told her .03 milligrams was enough to kill somebody.
Her son had been jumped by inmates a couple of months before he died and was using a wheelchair. “He was classified as a rat,” she says.
Janice thinks perhaps the morphine in his system was legal to deal with the pain of back fractures but she’s not sure.
Jamie had also joined a class-action lawsuit against the province prior to his death.
The Pigeau family just wants answers and changes at the detention centre.
"I hope he didn't die in vain," Janice says. "I can't give up hope."
During the Juno Awards March 17 in London, some of the families held a rally across from Budweiser Gardens, where the awards were handed out.
They were pleased with the information they were able to share with the public and they plan to continue to keep EMDC in the public eye as much as possible.
Jamie Pigeau's sister Lynn is planning a walk from EMDC to Queen's Park, beginning on May 26 to raise awareness about conditions within the jail.
Lynn says she wants people throughout the province to know about conditions there. She lives in the Toronto region and says EMDC isn't in the news outside of London.
She will arrive at Queen's Park on May 30. "We will have other families from other jails also (there)."
Judy Struthers also protests in front of EMDC each week, driving with her husband Glen from Goderich.
She has posters with photos of her son Justin's black eye and swollen red ears.
Justin Struthers died Dec. 26, 2017 and his death was ruled a suicide. She doesn’t believe that.
More than a year later and she is still waiting for an inquest into her son’s death to be announced.
Their weekly protests have caused some concern for people who work at the dentention centre. One probabtion officer who asked not to be identified, says the crosses can trigger trauma for the guards, meaning they are constantly reminded of the time they found an inmate dead.
Judy says she and Glen come each week to try to prevent others from dying within the walls of the troubled EMDC. She prefers to call their weekly stance outside the facility a rally and says they are also there for everyone inside the jail and they changes for the corrections officers, too.
“We want accountability, honest answers and we definitely want changes on both sides of those bars,” says Judy.
They also want inmates with mental illness to be treated by psychologists and psychiatrists.
“When the judge…hammers that (gavel) down and says, 'Two years, three years in jail.' He should be saying ‘Let’s find out why you did this and get that help,'" she says.
Judy and Glen are Justin’s grandparents but they raised him since he was just days old and he called them mom and dad.
“He is our son,” she says emphatically.
Born addicted to drugs, she says Justin had a rough start but was a caring person, who would give someone in need the jacket off his back.
“We picked him up sometimes in London when he wanted a ride back home (to Goderich) in the dead of winter and he would give his coat away. I would say, ‘Where is your coat?’”
Judy says her son struggled with mental illness but he knew he needed help.
On Saturday, Dec. 23, 2017, he called 911 because he was suffering from depression and anxiety. OPP took him to Goderich hospital, but he was released after an assessment.
The officers who brought him to the hospital were also concerned about his mental health, says Glen.
Believing that Justin was in the hospital, Judy and Glen felt he would be more agitated with them around so they wanted to give him some time before visiting.
“He thought someone was out to get him. But he was on no drugs, except his prescription drugs,” Judy says.
Then the devastating knock on the door came on Boxing Day, with police informing the couple their son was deceased.”
The Struthers found out that he was brought to EMDC on Christmas Day at noon and by 11:30 a.m. on Dec. 26 he was dead.
They wanted to see him right away, but say nobody would tell them where his body was. “They told us we would contaminate the evidence,” says Glen.
The Struthers finally saw the body of their son one hour before visitation at the funeral home on New Year’s Day.
They have never believed that Justin killed himself.
“He was beaten to death,” Judy says. “They said he was in a 20-second scuffle with two different people.”
But some of the wounds he suffered are not explained, she says.
The back of his wrists were shredded about three inches across, as seen in a photo, Judy says.
“Nobody is going to tell me an inmate did that.”
Justin also had a head injury.
The autopsy report questions why he wasn’t transported to a London hospital following this injury and also why he was released from the Goderich hospital.
A family member took pictures of the bruising on Justin’s face and ears, plus the laceration on his wrists, while he was lying in the casket.
Police say Justin assaulted an officer and was brought to EMDC because of that. His parents wonder if that is why he was injured.
They still search for the truth about what happened to their son. "He shouldn't have died the way he did," a tearul Judy says.
They believe EMDC is so troubled because rules and regulations aren’t followed.
But they understand the job of a corrections officer isn’t easy, especially with all of the mental health issues of inmates.
“You do have good guards in there and they have a hard job,” Judy says.
Marcia Patterson says her brother was a man who wanted to help others. He worked with the deaf community and had learned how to use sign language so that he could better communicate with them.
“Keith was one of the most loving guys that you would ever meet,” says Marcia.
“He left behind seven children who miss him dearly. They don’t understand why their dad is not here.”
Patterson says her children also miss their uncle. “Their hearts break every day...I was his only sibling. It was just us two. We both had a rotten life.”
She says they were both in and out of different homes growing up.
Keith was also hit by a truck when he was four and that caused brain injuries.“The truck ran right over him. He was given a five per cent chance of survival,” she says.
That led to mental health issues and her brother never got the help he needed, she says.
“Society, they just push him out the door. He had a rough life.”
Keith ended up committing suicide on Sept. 30, 2014. He had tried three times in the two days before he took his own life.
He hung himself from his food tray door.
Marcia has questions about exactly what happened as her brother was 6-foot-4 and weighed 250 pounds and his feet would have hit the floor.
“He did hang himself but I don’t understand how it could happen in his cell. The cells are so small and he was tall.”
He used a no-tear blanket that three guards saw him rip, his sister says. “Not one of them wanted to take it from him because not one of them wanted to have a fight with him.”
She says her brother was kept on life support because his organs were to be harvested. His blood work showed there was no medication in his system, even though he was supposed to be on pills for his mental illness.
Marcia thinks his presciption drugs would have prevented him from committing suicide. “There are a lot of unanswered questions.”
She wants to see changes, including providing a comprehensive treatment program for inmates with mental illness and also training for corrections officer who interact with inmates who have mental health issues.
Jessica Robinson says her sister was admitted to EMDC in 2009 following a fight. Her charges were never processed through the court because Straughan died only a few days after being admitted.
She was ill when she arrived and ended up dying of pneumonia and other health complications.
"I’m hoping eventually that one of these deaths will matter enough to upper management and the government that they take a look at the recommendations (from inquests into inmates’ deaths) that they’ve’ been handing out," she says.
Straughan was 25 when she died and had a young son and daughter.
"Laura was a beautiful, tiny sprite of a girl. Funny, caring and confident, she was known as a friend who would always go the extra mile to help a friend and took pride in her ability to give without hesitation," Jessica says.
CTV News sent several emails to the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, beginning the end of January, asking for an interview with Minister Sylvia Jones.
After providing a list of questions, the minister’s office never responded to follow-up emails.
CTV News was also told by a ministry spokesperson that EMDC superintendent David Wilson is not avaible for interviews.
The ministry did provide a statement about the facility after a list of questions was sent.
"Those who work in correctional facilities have a challenging job. All correctional officers receive comprehensive training to do their jobs effectively. Correctional facilities across Ontario manage risks of inmate violence on a daily basis," the statement said.
"The ministry has policies and procedures in place for dealing with violence and other inmate disturbances which include critical components such as active management and staff awareness. There is also a robust internal inmate misconduct policy to manage inmates who engage in violent behaviour towards staff. Staff can never fully predict what any given day will bring, and that is why correctional officers are trained to handle a variety of different situations.
"If criminal activity is suspected or alleged, or if staff or inmates are assaulted or threatened, the police are contacted. Police are responsible for conducting investigations and making decisions about the laying of criminal charges."
Other inmates who have died at EMDC since 2009
Randy Drysdale - 2009
Adam Kargus - 2013
Jamie High - 2014
Floyd Deleary - 2015
Justin Thompson - 2016
Raymond G. Major - 2017
Mike Fall - 2017
Murray Davis - 2017
Ron Jenkins - 2017