Cellblock improvements ‘better late than never

Ottawa police have added a staff sergeant to oversee operations at the central cellblock — one of many changes after the infamous Stacy Bonds incident.

The move was implemented five months ago, according to the final report of the cellblock operations review released Friday.

Chief Vern White said improving service is the goal of these adjustments.

“At the end of the day, I’m sure when our service is better, morale overall is better and public trust is better,” said White.

Bonds was arrested for being intoxicated in public on September 6, 2008.

Public outrage ensued in November 2010 after cellblock video was released, showing cops kneeing her, pinning her to the ground, and cutting Bonds’ shirt and bra off.

Bonds was charged with assaulting a peace officer, which was stayed by Justice Richard Lajoie last October.

The final report outlines modifications to policies regarding arrest, search and release, strip searches, and intoxicated persons.

Supt. Mike Flanagan said over the last five years, drunken prisoners have primarily filled the cellblock.

“Our numbers appear to be down — to what degree, it’s difficult to say right now,” said Flanagan.

Post-Bonds, cops have to follow strict requirements for arresting a person for being drunk in public.

An arresting officer has to provide a detailed written account of why the person in custody is a danger and supervisors must review the officer’s reasons for arrest.

“It seems to me that it should be a pretty unusual occasion that somebody has to spend the night in jail because they’re drunk,” said defence lawyer Mark Ertel.

“Whatever safeguards they’ve put into place, anything is better than what they had before,” said Ertel, who represented Roxanne Carr, one of several people who’ve come forward alleging injury while in police custody.

And the number of strip searches can now be tracked internally.

“I think it’s shocking that they not only didn’t have a record before, but that they didn’t seem to follow the direction of the Supreme Court of Canada about how the strip searches are supposed to be done, so hopefully they’ve cleaned that up,” Ertel said.

Strip searches are included in a daily report sent to Flanagan, outlining cellblock staffing, number of prisoners, use of force, injuries, etc.

“Our biggest problem was around tracking of it and now it’s always tracked,” said White.

Cellblock staff, including special constables, received 16 hours of additional training addressing duty of care, handcuffing and searching, and use of force.

“It’s unfortunate that those training regimes are only put in place after something happens that the public is upset about, but I guess in some ways, better late than never,” said Ertel.

Audio recording has been added to the cellblock video cameras and HD cameras should be operating by August.

Cellblock complaints timeline

  • Sept. 6, 2008 —Stacy Bonds arrested on suspicion of public intoxication and later charged with assaulting a peace officer
  • Oct. 27, 2010 — Judge Richard Lajoie throws out case, calling police actions, “appalling,” a “travesty,” and an “indignity.”
  • Nov. 1, 2010 — Chief Vern White makes formal complaint about Bonds incident
  • Nov. 19, 2010 — SIU launches investigation into officers’ conduct after cellblock video emerges
  • Nov. 25, 2010 — Cellblock video of Bonds released to media
  • Dec. 7, 2010 — OPP begin investigating two more cellblock cases
  • Dec. 17, 2010 — Bonds launches $1.2-million civil suit against Chief White, the officers involved and the Ottawa Police Service
  • January 2011 — New staff sergeant added to central cellblock
  • Jan. 8 to Feb. 6, 2011 — Cellblock staff receive 16 hours of additional training, to be repeated yearly
  • Week of Jan. 10, 2011 — OPP begin investigating another two cellblock complaints, totalling five cases
  • Feb. 24, 2011 — Audio recording added to cellblock video cameras
  • March 15, 2011 — SIU charges Sgt. Steven Desjourdy with sexual assault under Section 271 of the Criminal Code of Canada
  • March 22, 2011-OPP returns five files (all except Bonds’) to OPS. Misconduct found in one case and dealt with internally since two people involved are civilians
  • May 25, 2011 — OPP clears all five witness officers of misconduct in Bonds case

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