A case involving four correctional officers from a Maple Ridge prison who are facing charges of assault causing bodily harm has been delayed until next month.
Matthew Aaron Black, Luke James Poelzer, Ryan Thomas Saunders and Neil Jamieson Mackenzie Stirton face the same charge in connection with an incident at Fraser Regional Correctional Centre on 256th Street on Sept. 18, 2017.
They were scheduled Monday in Port Coquitlam provincial court to set a trial date. That’s since been adjourned until Feb. 11.
Dean Purdy, with the B.C. Government Employees Union, didn’t have much to say with the matter now before the courts.
“I will say that the officers’ spirits are high. That’s about it,” he said Monday.
“The job of a correctional officer is very difficult. The number of gang-affiliated inmates inside our jails, the fact that 50 per cent of the inmates have both substance abuse and mental health issues, it’s just getting more and more difficult for correctional officers to deal with the amount of violence that’s inside our jails.”
The incident also resulted in eight officers being fired and six disciplined by B.C. Corrections.
Those firings have been grieved by the BCGEU.
Purdy said in a December union notice the incident took place in September in a living unit after “an unprovoked, violent attack,” and that other officers responded and “secured the inmate.
“Four of our own are facing criminal charges after coming to the aid of a fellow correctional officer …” he said.
He noted that Ridge Meadows RCMP investigated, but made no recommendation at the time about charges for the officers.
However, last November, the Crown filed charges.
“Without prejudicing the case, we note that this situation could happen to any one of us working in corrections and sheriff services,” Purdy said.
“The union will vigorously defend our members, despite the lack of support from the employer. We are all on trial every day, so we must stand together and support our colleagues.”
Correctional officers protested their working conditions last February with an afternoon demonstration outside prison.
Purdy said then that Fraser Regional was built with a capacity for about 300 inmates, but now has more than 500.
An auditor’s general report in 2015 said that Fraser Regional racked up the highest number of safety and security incidents, nearly 1,200 a year, by 2012.
That’s about 50 per cent more than the next-most violent prisons in the B.C. Corrections system in Nanaimo and Prince George.
“While I can’t comment on the matters currently before the courts, I can say generally that B.C. Corrections is committed to ensuring the duties of all staff are carried out as required by policy and the law,” said Cindy Rose of B.C. Corrections.
“Correctional officers are held to high standards of conduct – and as peace officers, they receive extensive training in a variety of disciplines, including de-escalation and the use of force.
“Any time a serious incident takes place, an internal review is conducted to help mitigate any future occurrences.
“Because of strict privacy and confidentiality obligations, I cannot provide details of any personnel-related details. This includes both matters before the courts as well as internal reviews.”