Nunavut jail guard going to jail for assaulting inmate
“Our society’s values do not change behind a prison’s walls”
Nunavut’s most-recently appointed judge is sending a jail guard to prison for two unprovoked assaults on a “cognitively impaired” inmate at the Baffin Correctional Centre in Iqaluit in 2014.
Justice Paul Bychok found Michael Bracken guilty of the two assaults in October 2015, reserved his sentencing decision until Jan. 28, 2016, when he sentenced the offender in court to 30 days in jail followed by nine months of probation.
A written copy of that decision was released Jan. 29.
Bracken, 31, and born in Iqaluit, had no previous criminal record and poses no threat to the community, Bychok said, but it’s necessary to denounce what he called “a cowardly and gratuitous act of violence unleashed against a helpless victim.”
Bychok’s sentence was clear and stinging.
“The court wishes to send a message to all Nunavummiut, and to all who are put in authority over them, that the dignity of each and every one of us inviolable,” he said.
“Our society’s values do not change behind a prison’s walls and those persons entrusted with authority must be the standard bearers of those values.”
It was well-known at BCC that the victim, a repeat offender, was sometimes hard to manage. In Bychok’s judgment, witnesses described the man as “child-like” and “low functioning.”
“With the exception of the offender, all five guards told the court they adjusted their handling of the victim to account for his special needs,” Bychok said.
The court heard from five guards who were on duty on the day of the assaults, Oct. 26, 2014.
That’s when Bracken had apparently been having a stressful day and the victim had been irritating him. The first assault occurred in the mess area and was caught on security camera.
The victim approached Bracken near the door to the kitchen asking for a cookie. Bracken told him no and started to open the door. The inmate put his foot against the door. Bracken punched him in the face and then wrestled him to the floor.
“This attack greatly upset several inmates who were present and who witnessed the attack,” Bychok wrote. “One of the guards became concerned that a riot might break out if the situation was not immediately diffused.”
The shift supervisor confronted Bracken about his actions after that first attack. According to court documents, Bracken responded, “Do I look like I give a fuck?”
After subduing the victim, guards escorted him from the general population to a secure hallway. Instead of removing himself from the situation, Bracken followed.
“The victim became agitated when he saw the offender and he was taken to the ground again by two guards,” after which he was handcuffed, Bychok wrote.
While the victim was being subdued, Bracken “wound up, and deliberately kicked him violently in the head,” driving the inmate’s head into the wall, the sentencing decision said.
But no one knows exactly what happened in the hallway.
There was a security camera present, but “the court was not provided with a satisfactory explanation as to why a video recording of that assault was not available as evidence,” Bychok said.
Bychok gives an overview of aggravating factors he considered before handing Bracken his sentence. These included, that:
• Bracken was a guard responsible for inmate safety;
• the victim was vulnerable and the offender knew he suffered from “cognitive impairment”;
• his behaviour put fellow guards at risk of an inmate riot;
• he chose not to remove himself from the situation after the first assault;
• the assaults were gratuitous and unprovoked; and,
• Bracken showed “not the slightest bit of remorse” when confronted after the first assault.
“Above all, the sentence I impose today should foster respect for the rule of law and should contribute to building a safe and healthy Nunavut.”
Canadian courts have highlighted the “vulnerability of our inmate populations,” Bychok wrote. Their lives are controlled by agents of the state who have “extraordinary authority and power over their charges,” Bychok said.
“But,” he added, “with those powers comes a tremendous legal and moral responsibility to exercise those powers justly.”
Here Bychok described what he considered a very troubling aspect of the trial: how guards tried to minimize Bracken’s actions by blaming a lack of training and support to handle such situations with “special needs inmates.”
While training deficiencies might indeed exist, it does not excuse how the guards rallied around a guilty man, he said.
“Each one of the witnesses called by the Crown attempted to excuse the offender and justify his actions,” Bychok said in his sentencing.
In fact, some of the witnesses were evasive and non-responsive on the stand, Bychok said, and the offender’s former supervisor even backtracked on evidence and offered alternate explanations for the kick, “which had absolutely no air of reality.”
Bychok said the actions of those guards on the stand strengthened his resolve to deliver a sentence that would deter such behaviour.
“The high legal and moral duty of correctional officers to act at all times with justice, probity and restraint is even more marked here given the highly vulnerable nature of our prison population,” Bychok said.
As a result of this conviction, Bracken is no longer employed at BCC, court documents said.