Videos showing guards at the Saint John Regional Correctional Centre punching an inmate were played in Fredericton provincial court this week following an unsuccessful attempt by the province to prevent the public from seeing them.
The videos show Scott Morrison being tackled to the ground by two guards, followed by more guards swarming him and punching him while he was being held in the jail on Sept. 27.
Morrison was on remand pending the outcome of his trial on eight drug trafficking offences.
In October, Judge Cameron Gunn found him guilty of the offences, and Morrison filed an application seeking to have his sentence reduced based on his charter rights being violated with the jailhouse beating.
Morrison sought to have the videos played in court to back up his application, but the Office of the Attorney General filed its own application on Nov. 3 asking that the videos be sealed and that members of the public and media be blocked from viewing them.
The province argued in its application and through affidavits that playing the videos in court could violate the privacy rights of other inmates who could be seen in the videos, and could compromise security at the jail by showing the tactical response to an emergency.
After hearing arguments from a lawyer representing the Office of the Attorney General, and a lawyer representing CBC News, Gunn denied the government’s application on Tuesday, citing the importance of the open court principle.
“The ability for people to watch the videos, which Mr. Morrison alleges show the assault by correctional officers, may assist them in understanding my decision, whatever it might be,” Gunn said.
“Such an understanding can only help to enhance the reputation of the administration of justice. To hide the video from the public viewing could serve to diminish the public’s trust in the system of justice.”
Footage shows punches
Following Gunn’s decision to deny the province’s application, court resumed with Sheldon Currie, the province’s chief superintendent of correctional services, being called to testify on what was shown in the videos as they were played.
The videos comprised CCTV footage showing various angles within the jail, as well as footage from a camera that was being held by one of the guards, Currie said.
In the CCTV footage, two guards can be seen walking Morrison down a flight of stairs and down to the door of his cell.
One of the guards is seen swinging the door open, which Morrison then slams shut.
The door swings open again and as Morrison walks inside, a guard can be seen pushing him in.
Morrison walks back out and approaches the two guards, and a scuffle ensues, with one guard holding Morrison around the shoulders, and the second guard grabbing him by the legs and taking him to the ground.
One of the guards can then be seen punching Morrison while he’s on the ground.
Other guards from another part of the jail can be seen assembling and then running to the area where Morrison was.
None of the CCTV footage contained audio.
Court was then shown the footage from the handheld camera, which Currie said guards are required to use whenever a tactical emergency response is triggered.
That footage includes audio and shows as many as six guards crouched over Morrison.
From the angle of that recording, Morrison isn’t visible in the beginning, but someone can be heard shout “You’re resisting,” and two guards can be seen punching multiple times in Morrison’s direction.
Morrison only comes into direct view of the camera once the guards move away and pick him up off the ground.
The knuckles on the right hand of one of the guards seen punching Morrison appear to be bloody.
Morrison’s face has red marks as he’s walked in handcuffs across what appears to be a common area, down a hallway and into to a room, where he is sat down and the door closed.
Currie said the incident was reviewed by the jail’s use of force expert and later reviewed by the jail’s professional standards unit.
Currie did not say whether there were any findings of wrongdoing by the guards, or whether any of them were punished.
Morrison was also in court and took to the witness box to testify about what happened.
He said the incident all stemmed from an interaction he had with a nurse within the jail.
He said he asked her for bandages, but she gave him the wrong ones, so he put them back in her cart and asked her to get a different type of bandage for him.
He said the guards thought he was being disrespectful to her, which is when they ordered him to leave the nurse’s station and go back to his cell.
Morrison said as he got to the door of his cell, one of the guards shoved him in, and he came back out because he was upset and wanted to speak to a supervisor.
He said he then got tackled to the ground and was struck three times by one of the guards, before more guards rushed to the scene.
“One of the guards was trying to hamstring me or something,” Morrison said.
“He got the back of my leg and it really hurt, but he was concentrating there and I’m holding my pants up. One guard punched me in the face, and I remember just more guards coming in after that.”
Throughout his time on the ground, Morrison said, his hands were behind his back and he was being compliant with the guards.
“I didn’t fight them earlier, and I wasn’t fighting them then.”
Morrison said the incident left him with a black eye and scrapes and marks on his face and neck.
He said he asked a prison guard to take photos of his face, which were shown in court. The photos showed red marks and bruises on his face and neck.
He said as a result of the incident, he now gets headaches more often and it takes him longer to read books. He said his leg is also still injured from when the guards tackled him.
Defence argues for 29-month sentence
As part of the sentencing submissions, the court heard Morrison reaffirm earlier guilty pleas on separate charges for possession of cocaine for the purpose of trafficking, two counts of possession of stolen property, and a count of fleeing from police, which stemmed from an incident in Fredericton on Aug. 7, 2021.
Both the Crown and Ben Reentovich, Morrison’s lawyer, recommended a 90-day sentence for those charges.
Combined with the eight drug trafficking offences, Reentovich said, he believed Morrison deserved a 29-month sentence, which included a six-month reduction as relief for the beating he suffered.
“There’s no need to repeatedly strike him in the face, to grab him by the throat. You saw the marks in those photos,” Reentovich said.
“That response to an inmate not being co-operative to me seems disproportionate and unreasonable, and is one that requires a remedy.”
Crown prosecutor Brian Munn said he recommended Morrison be sentenced to three to five years in jail.
Gunn said he would reserve his decision until Nov. 28.