'We should all be concerned': Windsor lawyer wants answers into inmate death
Criminal defence lawyer Ken Marley wants an inquest called into the death of one of his clients, 55-year-old Manuel Hernandez.
“He passed away as a result of being infected with COVID-19, while he was in custody at the South West Detention Centre (SWCD),” according to Marley, who was only alerted to Hernandez’s health when a hospital social worker called his office.
“They were trying to find out whether or not he had someone who could exercise his power of attorney over his medical decisions because there was some controversy over whether he would be intubated,” says Marley.
Within days, Marley says a friend of Hernandez told the lawyer Manuel died of COVID-19.
“I’m surprised that this happened,” says Marley. “I have reason to question whether or not the protocols which are in place at SWDC were properly followed in this case.”
According to the Ministry of the Solicitor General, which operates Ontario’s jails, there are a number of COVID restrictions in place, including, but not limited to:
- Screening and testing all newly admitted inmates, with their consent
- Housing all newly admitted inmates in a separate area from the general population for 14 days
- Requiring all staff to wear a mask at all times while at the facility and eye protection, as necessary.
The ministry won’t comment on Hernandez, specifically, citing inmate privacy, but in a written statement to CTV News, spokesperson Andrew Morrison says “When a death involving an inmate occurs, it is the subject of multiple investigations.”
According to the Office of the Chief Coroner, any death in custody must be investigated by the Chief Coroner.
Spokesperson Stephanie Rea writes “should the coroner determine that the death was anything other than natural causes, an inquest would be called. Should the death result from natural causes, an inquest would be at the discretion of the coroner.”
Marley believes an inquest should be called, regardless of cause of death.
“He (Hernandez) couldn’t have got the virus on his own, in that insulated environment and secondly, how he didn’t receive the proper medical attention at the appropriate time,” says Marley.
Marley believes inmates are significantly isolated when they first arrive at SWDC for their 14-day quarantine.
“They’re kept in their cell for, I’m told 23 hours and 40 minutes a day,” according to Marley. “They get out for 20 minutes. Even at that, their contact with other people is limited.”
In the last week, Marley says he has received three phone calls from inmates at SWDC, which give him reason to doubt the protocols were followed.
“All of them telling me things that I can’t prove but that if they’re true, warrant a full investigation into what really happened to Mr. Hernandez,” he says.
Marley says one person told him two inmates were brought into the range where Hernandez was living, before their 14-day quarantine was up, while another told him a corrections officer was working in the range while exhibiting symptoms of COVID.
According to the ministry website, SWDC has a capacity for up to 315 inmates.
“Two them died in the span of a month? We should all be concerned,” says Marley.
As previously reported by CTV News, two inmates died while in the custody of SWDC in December 2021.
According to the ministry one inmate was taken to hospital on Dec. 7 and died in hospital on Dec. 18, while a second inmate, found in “medical distress” on Dec. 28 died in hospital later that day.
“You can’t take for granted protecting everybody who’s in custody, whether they are a career criminal or not,” says Marley. “He (Hernandez) deserves as much respect and consideration as any other person.”
According to court documents, Hernandez was arrested on Jan. 9, 2020 by the Emergency Services Unit of Windsor Police, outside the Downtown Mission.
The court documents indicate Hernandez was in possession of 10 small baggies of fentanyl, methamphetamine, cocaine, a prescription bottle of hydromorphone, more than $2,500 in Canadian cash and a digital scale.
Hernandez also had a loaded handgun in his possession when he was arrested.
In Sept. 2021, during a trail, Marley argued the police used excessive force in the arrest of Hernandez.
Marley also argued the information police used to get a search warrant was insufficient.
After a four-day trial, Justice Brian Dube ruled against the defence, and convicted Hernandez of all 12 charges, including possession of drugs and possession of an illegal firearm.
Hernandez was scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 4, 2022.
Federal prosecutor Sue Szasz says all charges were withdrawn on Jan. 14, 2022 because of Hernandez’s death.
It isn’t clear how long the ministry and coroner investigations will take before they are concluded.
Marley is hopeful they provide some answers into why Hernandez died in custody.
“He’s a human being. He’s a son. He’s a father. He’s a grandfather,” says Marley.
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