TORONTO â€” Jail authorities were negligent to house rival gang members in the same unit and therefore liable for the injuries one of them sustained in a beating, Ontario’s top court ruled Monday.
The ruling upholds a lower court finding that found the guards largely liable for what happened to Jason Walters, who spent months in hospital, more than a year in rehabilitation, and was left with permanent brain damage.
Walters was a low-level member of Toronto’s east end Malvern Crew, which was involved in an ongoing turf war with the Galloway Boyz, which had Tyshan Riley as leader or senior member.
“The security risks that Riley posed ought to have been known to all members of the justice system,” the Appeal Court said. “This information should have influenced (the) decision on Walters’ placement.”
Correctional authorities at Toronto’s Don Jail put Walters in Riley’s unit in November 2008 despite knowing about their gang affiliations. Walters was soon badly beaten by fellow inmates in an attack directed by Riley. The victim sued for damages, claiming the guards had negligently failed to prevent the assault.
At trial, a lower court judge agreed with Walters, who maintained he was only 15 per cent responsible for what happened to him because he could have asked to be placed in segregation for his own protection.
In that ruling in August 2015, Superior Court Justice Arthur Gans found the guards primarily responsible for what happened because they should have known Riley would likely attack members of rival gangs.
Ontario appealed, arguing Gans made several errors, including his assessment that the guards had been negligent. The province also argued that the courts had no right to review the decision to put Walters in the same unit as Riley because it was reasonable choice based on a policy of dispersing gang members throughout the jail.
The Court of Appeal disagreed with the province. It also sided with Gans’s finding that the Don Jail’s on-duty admitting manager, Steve Aspiotis, should have foreseen the problem of putting Walters and Riley in the same unit.
“Aspiotis should have known that Riley was an unusually dangerous inmate,” the Appeal Court said. “The trial judge’s finding that Aspiotis breached the standard of care had a sufficient evidentiary basis.”
A senior corrections official testified that if an admitting officer was aware of “any believed or perceived conflict” between a new inmate and an inmate already on the relevant range, the Appeal Court found, the officer should not place the newcomer on the unit.
The court also ordered the province to pay Walters $35,000 for his legal costs.
Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press