Justin Thompson died, EMDC cellmate Warren Williams clinging to life after taking illicit drugs
Justin Thompson was supposed to get out of jail this week, after beating his main charges and finishing up a minor sentence.
Instead, he died Monday in his London provincial jail cell of a drug overdose, just days before completing a three-week term for failing to get fingerprinted.
His cellmate, a man accused in a Sarnia murder case, was clinging to life in hospital.
Both men, sources say, fell victim to illegal drugs — likely heroin — at Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre (EMDC), a frequent flashpoint for troubles in Ontario’s correctional system.
Drugs are banned behind bars, but their use is so widespread one lawyer says it can be easier to score them in jail than on the street.
The overdoses also come amid mounting debate over why the jail still isn’t equipped with a body scanner that can detect weapons and drugs.
“The fact of the matter is it could have been prevented had (EMDC) had body scanners,” said Rick Nicholls, the Progressive Conservative corrections critic at Queen’s Park.
“Perhaps a life could have been saved,” said the Chatham-Kent-Essex MPP.
Thompson, 27, of no fixed address, and known to live in North Huron, would have been released this week after he was sentenced Oct. 21 in a Goderich court.
He had been acquitted of the principal charges that had put him on bail: breaking and entering and assault. He’d wound up in custody when he was out past his curfew.
He was sentenced for not showing up to the local OPP detachment to have his fingerprints taken in connection with the other charges — even though his fingerprints were already on file.
Thompson was from the Wingham area and attended high school in Stratford, sources said. He was supposed to be living in Blyth as part of his bail conditions set on Aug. 24 in connection with another case.
Sources said Thompson died of a heroin overdose.
His cellmate, Warren Williams, 45, of Sarnia was charged in June with first-degree murder, along with Lee Dion, 30 of Sarnia, in the death of Jonathan Pike, 26, on March 25.
Pike’s body was found in a wooded area south of Sarnia after a resident called police and reported hearing someone call for help.
Last spring, the province said Ontario’s 26 jails and detention centres would get new body scanners within two years. The province said EMDC — equipped with only metal scanners — would be among the first to get one of the scanners that are capable of detecting ceramic weapons and drugs hidden inside body cavities.
London lawyer and inmate advocate Kevin Egan said drugs are rampant inside the overcrowded jail, where two to three inmates are housed in cells meant for one, and where, at the same time, programs have been cut.
“I’ve heard it’s easier to get drugs in there than on the street because the prices are so inflated there” and inmates have added incentive to sell them, Egan said.
“It doesn’t surprise me at all that contraband is getting in and people are doing drugs.”
Monte Vieselmeyer, corrections chair of Ontario Public Service Employees Union, which represents jail workers, called body scanners “a game changer.”
But he cautioned the devices can’t completely stop the flow into jails of contraband, including drugs. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” he said.
While the main jail doesn’t have scanners, its new 112-bed regional intermittent centre, which holds people serving weekend sentences, is one of a half-dozen facilities across Ontario equipped with one, said Vieselmeyer, who wants to see them installed at the province’s other 20 jails.
The EMDC main facility, which can hold about 400 inmates, will get one sometime by 2018, the province has said.
Monday’s death comes three years after Adam Kargus, 29, was killed during what inmates described as a raucous, booze-fuelled Halloween celebration. The Sarnia man’s body was found in a shower area on Nov. 1, 2013.
“Three years later, the institution is still a risk to the health and safety of inmates,” Egan said.
Overcrowding, lockdowns, violence and other issues have frequently thrust EMDC under a harsh spotlight, its troubles even spilling onto the floor of the Ontario legislature.
Paramedics were called to the Exeter Road jail around 7:15 a.m. Monday, with reports of at least one inmate without vital signs, said paramedic Shawn Pranger.
“Early investigation has determined there’s no evidence of trauma to either individual and there’s no indication of foul play,” said London police Const. Brian Armstrong, adding police are helping the coroner in the death investigation.
The fatal overdose happened in unit 5, a regular unit, a source told The Free Press.
Staff at EMDC declined to comment, referring all inquiries to Ontario’s Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services.
The ministry said it wouldn’t comment while the incident is under police investigation.
“Should the coroner’s death investigation determine that the death was anything other than natural causes, a mandatory inquest will be held. Should the death be due to natural causes, the calling of an inquest is at the discretion of the coroner,” said spokesperson Andrew Morrison.
Justin Thompson, 27, of no fixed address.
Sentenced to 21 days in jail in a Goderich court Oct. 21 for breaching his bail conditions.
Warren Williams, 45, of Sarnia.
Charged with first-degree murder in the death of Jonathan Pike in Sarnia.