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Canada: Inquest begins in MTC inmate death.

Inmate's health issues dominate first day of inquest
Janis Leering: The Mirror

The medical problems of an inmate, who died while incarcerated at the super jail last year, were the main focus during the first day of an inquest into his death.
Lorne Thaw, 50, was found dead in his cell on May 8, 2003. An autopsy was unable to determine the cause of death. Thaw was the first of three inmates who died while in custody at the jail.

Coroner Dr. Peter Savage will preside over the inquest, which started at the Midland courthouse on Monday. He told the five-member jury to listen to all of the evidence, but to use common sense to reach a conclusion about why and how he died.

"No one is on trial here, and there will be no findings of guilt," Savage told the jury.

The jury heard Thaw was brought to the jail while he waited to make court appearances for various charges, including sexual assault and forcible confinement. After being admitted to the Central North Correctional Centre on Dec. 28, 2002, he was immediately sent to the medical ward to be treated for health complaints.

"He was seen by Dr. (James) Bolton, who ordered that Thaw remain in the medical unit until he had a handle on his medical condition," said Crown attorney Bob Gattrell.

Thaw complained about bronchitis, and alcohol withdrawal symptoms, but it was the doctor who noticed he had high blood pressure.

Gattrell said it wasn't until Jan. 15, 2003, that Thaw was given clearance to leave the medical ward, but he asked to stay, where he worked as a cleaner for the unit.

"He did some housekeeping duties, and it gave him some freedom."

Gattrell said Thaw got along well with his cellmate, who was the one who noticed Thaw didn't wake up at his usual time on May 8.

"(The cellmate) put his hand on (Thaw's) shoulder, and he felt the body was cold. Then, he got help from staff, who noticed there were no vital signs."

Any time a person dies while in custody, a mandatory inquest must be held.

Lois Bullock was first on the stand. She testified Thaw was suffering from withdrawal, he was shaky, and he had requested to be in protective custody, based on the charges he was facing.

Bullock works at the Central North Correctional Centre, and told the jury she has worked in corrections for more than 20 years. She has worked for Management and Training Corporation Canada - the private company that runs the jail - since it opened in 2001.

On the stand, she read through Thaw's client profile, which described his medical conditions, and his appearances in court. The profile also said he was previously in another jail in 2000, and he had been in protective custody.

When questioned, Bullock confirmed inmates needing protective custody usually will ask to remain that way through their stays in the correctional system, so it wasn't unusual for him to request it again in 2002.

She told the jury Thaw plead guilty to sexual assault and forcible confinement on Jan. 21, 2003. Two other charges against Thaw were dropped at that time.

"He was sentenced on March 12, 2003, to seven months straight, and there was no further update after that," said Bullock, as she looked over the document.

Thaw's step-daughter, Kathleen Worrod, then asked Bullock if her step-father appeared nervous when he was first admitted to the jail.

"I was not present (when he was admitted), but if it's (an inmate's) first time, they are nervous, and they are always given the opportunity to ask for protective custody. They will usually ask for it if they feel they may have enemies at the jail, or any charges of notoriety," said Bullock.

Next on the stand was Bolton, who cared for Thaw several times during his stay at the jail.

When he first saw Thaw as a patient on Jan. 2, he ordered medication to deal with Thaw's withdrawal symptoms, and high blood pressure. He also noticed Thaw had blood vessel problems in his neck, but attributed that to his high blood pressure.

Bolton told the jury on Jan. 15, it appeared as though Thaw was improving.

"His blood pressure had improved, but it was still 160 over 87," said Bolton.

"There was no sign of blockage of the blood vessels in the neck. I still told him I wanted to see him in two weeks, to check on the high blood pressure."

So Thaw was given the "all clear", which meant he could return to the general population. But Bolton said Thaw stayed in the medical area, where he continued to make appointments for medical advice.

Bolton was questioned about his decision to allow the inmate to leave the medical area, and Bolton explained that as long as the medical condition is under control, inmates don't need to be in the medical ward.

"We have 200 to 300 inmates with hepatitis C, and others have diabetes. There are a fair number of health issues, and patients see me on a regular basis."

On Feb. 27, Thaw told Bolton he felt he was going to black out.

"He had no history of seizures, but said he had similar episodes on the street before, usually when he changed positions, or extended his neck."

The jury has also heard from Thaw's cellmate, and other key witnesses in the case. It must determine the identity of the deceased, the time, place, and manner of death, and the circumstances surrounding the death. The jury can also make recommendations to avoid this from happening again in a similar situation.

Their findings will be released at the end of the inquest which is expected to wrap up this week.

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