Videos showing guards at the Saint John Regional Correctional Center beating an inmate were played in Fredericton provincial court this week after a failed attempt by the province to prevent the public from viewing them.
The videos show Scott Morrison being tackled to the ground by two guards, followed by more guards swarming and beating him while he was being held at the prison on September 27.
Morrison was in custody pending the outcome of his trial on eight counts of drug trafficking.
In October, Judge Cameron Gunn found him guilty of the offences, and Morrison lodged an application seeking to have his sentence reduced on the basis that his Charter rights were violated by beatings in prison.
Morrison sought to have the videos played in court to support his application, but the attorney general’s office filed its own application on November 3, asking that the videos be sealed and that members of the public and media be blocked from viewing them.
The province argued in its application and through affidavits that playing the videos in court could infringe on the privacy of other inmates who could be seen in the videos and could compromise prison security by showing the tactical response to an emergency.
After hearing arguments from a lawyer representing the attorney general’s office and a lawyer representing CBC News, Gunn on Tuesday rejected the government’s application, citing the importance of the open court principle.
“The ability for people to see the videos that Mr. Morrison claims show the assault by correctional officers may help them understand my decision, whatever it may be,” Gunn said.
“Such understanding can only help strengthen the reputation of the administration of justice. Hiding the video from public view can help diminish public confidence in the justice system.”
Footage shows punches
Following Gunn’s decision to reject the province’s application, the court resumed with Sheldon Currie, the province’s chief inspector of corrections, being called to testify about what was shown in the videos as they were played.
The videos included CCTV footage showing different angles of the prison, as well as footage from a camera held by one of the guards, Currie said.
In the CCTV footage, two guards can be seen walking Morrison down a flight of stairs to the door of his cell.
One of the guards is seen swinging open the door, which Morrison then slams.
The door opens again and as Morrison walks in, a guard can be seen pushing him inside.
Morrison goes back out and approaches the two guards and a brawl ensues with one guard holding Morrison by the shoulders and the other guard grabbing his legs and taking him to the ground.
One of the guards can then be seen punching Morrison while he is on the ground.
Other guards from another part of the prison can be seen gathering and then running to the area where Morrison was.
None of the CCTV recordings contained sound.
The court was then shown the footage from the handheld camera, which Currie said guards are required to use when a tactical emergency is triggered.
The footage includes audio and shows as many as six guards crouching over Morrison.
From the angle of that footage, Morrison is not visible at the beginning, but someone can be heard yelling “You resist” and two guards can be seen punching several times in Morrison’s direction.
Morrison only comes into direct view of the camera when the guards move away and pick him up from the ground.
The knuckles on the right hand of one of the guards seen beating Morrison appear to be bloody.
Morrison’s face bears red marks as he is handcuffed across what appears to be a common area, down a hallway and into a room, where he sits down with the door closed.
Currie said the incident was reviewed by the prison’s use of force expert and later reviewed by the prison’s professional standards unit.
Currie did not say whether any wrongdoing on the part of the guards was found or if any of them were punished.
Morrison was also in court and took to the witness stand to testify about what happened.
He said the incident all stemmed from an interaction he had with a nurse at the prison.
He said he asked her for bandages, but she gave him the wrong ones, so he put them back in her cart and asked her to get him a different type of bandage.
He said the guards thought he was being disrespectful to her, which is when they ordered him to leave the nurse’s station and go back to his cell.
Morrison said that when he got to the door of his cell, one of the guards pushed him in and he came back out because he was upset and wanted to talk to a supervisor.
He said he was then tackled to the ground and was hit three times by one of the guards before more guards rushed to the scene.
“One of the guards tried to put me in a hoard or something,” Morrison said.
“He got the back of my leg and it really hurt but he concentrated there and I’m holding my pants up. A guard punched me in the face and I remember more guards just came in after that .”
Throughout his time on the ground, Morrison said, his hands were behind his back and he was compliant with the guards.
“I didn’t fight them earlier and I didn’t fight them then.”
Morrison said the incident left him with a black eye and scratches and marks on his face and neck.
He said he asked a prison officer to take pictures of his face, which were shown in court. The photos showed red marks and bruises on his face and neck.
He said as a result of the incident, he now gets headaches more often and it takes him longer to read books. He said his leg is also still injured when the guards tackled him.
The defense argues for 29 months in prison
As part of the sentencing hearing, the court heard Morrison reaffirm earlier guilty pleas to separate charges of possession of cocaine for the purpose of trafficking, two counts of possession of stolen property and one count of fleeing from police stemming from an incident in Fredericton on 7 August 2021.
Both the Crown and Ben Reentovich, Morrison’s lawyer, recommended a 90-day sentence for those charges.
Combined with the eight drug-trafficking offenses, Reentovich said, he believed Morrison deserved a 29-month sentence, which included a six-month reduction in mitigation for the beating he suffered.
“There’s no reason to repeatedly punch him in the face, to grab him by the throat. You saw the marks in those pictures,” Reentovich said.
“This response to an inmate being uncooperative seems to me disproportionate and unreasonable, and is one that requires redress.”
Crown prosecutor Brian Munn said he recommended Morrison be sentenced to three to five years in prison.
Gunn said he would reserve his decision until November 28.