Anatomy of a prison riot: Burning debris, ‘bounce shots’ and bloodshed inside Saskatchewan Penitentiary

Anatomy of a prison riot: Burning debris, ‘bounce shots’ and bloodshed inside Saskatchewan Penitentiary
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Hours into a deadly riot at Saskatchewan Penitentiary on Dec. 14, 2016, emergency response team members decided to bust through makeshift barriers that inmates had put up using fridges, washing machines and bed frames.

On the other side, they encountered masked inmates who hurled burning debris, chairs and chunks of concrete and metal at them. Some of the 131 medium-security inmates who took part in the riot were armed with broomsticks whose ends were affixed with sharpened metal tips.

While the Correctional Service of Canada posted a summary of the incident on its website, the agency has never made public its internal blow-by-blow account of the melee, which resulted in one death and multiple murder charges, several injuries and $3.6 million in damage. The National Post received a redacted version of the 161-page Board of Investigation report this week in response to an access-to-information request filed in the spring of 2017.

“CSC should not investigate itself when there’s such a tragedy, where there’s riots or somebody dies in segregation,” Ivan Zinger, the correctional investigator, told the National Post. “It’s the same kind of rationale that’s been used with respect to police. When a citizen is seriously injured or dies it’s not the same police force that investigates itself. The same kind of rationale should be used in corrections.”

The riot took place in five corridors, also known as ranges, in the medium-security section of the aging prison located in Prince Albert.

Tensions had been simmering for days, according to the report.

CSC should not investigate itself when there’s such a tragedy

On the morning of Friday, Dec 9, 2016, inmate kitchen workers walked off the job in protest over food portions. One point of contention: the utensil used to scoop scrambled eggs was undersized and not delivering the 125 grams mandated by the prison system’s national menu. When staff found a slightly bigger utensil, it didn’t satisfy kitchen workers and they did not return to work the following Monday, Dec. 12.

On Dec. 13, the warden signed a memo committing to efforts to find ways to improve oversight of food quality and portions and general working conditions in the kitchen.

But the inmate representatives were not satisfied and came back Dec. 14 with a new demand: “double portions of protein.” The warden said this was not possible as menus were set nationally. The warden was also told inmates were fed up with their diminished purchasing power.

That afternoon, ranges were opened up so inmates could proceed to their work programs. But some of the inmates in the E and F corridors refused. Correctional officers attempted to get them to return to their cells, but they ignored orders to lock up.

At 1:25 p.m., inmates in the E3 and E4 ranges covered their faces with balaclavas and began to smash appliances, blocked or broke surveillance cameras and erected a barricade using fridges, washing machines, beds, sheets, cables and other items. Similar disturbances broke out in the E1, E2 and F4 ranges.

Some inmates began setting objects on fire and threw them out cell windows.

Inside the Saskatchewan Penitentiary after a deadly riot broke out on Dec. 14, 2016. Office of the Correctional Investigator

At 3:40 p.m., the deputy warden read the Riot Act proclamation over the prison’s intercom system, warning inmates they could face additional prison time for participating in a riot.

It had little deterrent effect.

The warden signed a document that authorized staff to take progressive measures to regain control of the facility, including the use of restraints, batons, shields, breaching equipment, chemical agents, grenades and firearms.

At 4:35 p.m, ERT members began to breach the barriers to the E3 and E4 ranges.

“Orders to cease and desist their activities and warnings that chemical munitions and lethal force could be used were made, to no avail,” the report said.

As they pushed through, they deployed tear gas and then marched down the corridors in riot formation.

Some inmates threw chunks of concrete or metal and metal chairs. Others charged at them using bed frames and mattresses as shields.

Orders to cease and desist ... were made, to no avail

As they got to the back of the range, ERT members deployed pepper spray and used physical force to drive inmates into their cells. Most inmates complied, except for three who lay prone on the floor and were handcuffed.

The ERT members went through similar confrontations in the F4 corridor.

At 6:30 p.m. the ERT members moved to the E1 and E2 ranges.

“While the barricade was being cleared, inmates threw debris … such as chunks of concrete and tried to stab at the ERT with broom sticks with sharpened metal taped to the ends,” the report said.

The ERT members fired more warning shots down the corridor, which was dark and filled with smoke. Spotlights were activated.
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