WINNIPEG – The lawyer for a woman whose common-law husband died after suffering a seizure at the Winnipeg Remand Centre says he expects an inquest into the death to look into systemic racism.
Corey Shefman says he also expects the probe to delve into the role of correctional officers in keeping inmates safe.
Shefman was speaking Monday outside the inquest into the May 2016 death of Bradley Errol Greene, a 26-year-old epileptic who had told his wife, Rochelle Pranteau, that he was being denied his anti-seizure medication.
The lawyer says Greene was Indigenous and more than 70 per cent of the centre’s inmate population is Indigenous.
He says five inmates died in custody around the time of Greene’s seizure, and the family wants the inquest to look into ways of preventing such deaths.
An autopsy showed Greene had a low, or subtherapeutic, level of anti-convulsion medication in his system, and one area of focus for the inquest is expected to be how inmate medication is handled.
Pranteau testified that Greene phoned her May 1, 2016, just before the seizure began.
She said he had been asking centre staff for medication for the two days since he was arrested by police for “smelling of alcohol.”
“He started telling me he was getting the numbing feeling in his fingers and that was some of the signs of a seizure,” Pranteau said. “I was trying to tell him to get up and tell a guard so they would be ready… he didn’t have a chance.
“By the time he got up, he fell. He collapsed… I heard him hit the floor. I heard a thud as the phone hit the floor.”
Under questioning by Crown lawyer Keith Eyrickson, Pranteau said she could hear inmates rushing to Greene’s aid, adding that at least five minutes went by before she heard correctional staff arrive, followed by a nurse.
“I could hear him jerking. I could hear him screaming and disoriented. You could hear him struggling for breath. I could hear him gasping for air.”
Pranteau said she was “screaming on the phone. Cursing. I was hoping someone would answer the phone, but nobody did.”
She said 10 minutes after Greene’s seizure started, someone hung up the phone without saying anything. It wasn’t until eight hours later someone from the centre called to tell her Greene had died.
Pranteau also told the inquest that Greene was supposed to take five anti-seizure pills a day, but the day he was detained he only took two pills in the morning.
“He left in a hurry,” she said, noting he was planning to meet with a friend and his mother before meeting her in the downtown later in the day.
Pranteau said Greene failed to show up and the next time she heard from him, he was phoning from the remand centre the next day.
Dr. Raymond Rivera, a pathologist, testified Greene died from a cardio-respiratory failure, secondary to an epileptic seizure.
Rivera said Greene had his first seizure Sunday, May 1, at 1:53 p.m., and a second one less than an hour later at 2:37 p.m. He said correctional officers handcuffed the man and took him into a cell to calm down.
The doctor said it was when paramedics were assessing Greene, before taking him to hospital, that the man’s breathing and heart stopped.
Rivera said it might have been a sign Greene had suffered a third seizure, but there is no way of knowing for sure.
Paramedics were able to start Greene’s heart again, but he was later pronounced dead at the Health Sciences Centre at 8:27 p.m.
Rivera said he noted several cuts and bruises on Greene’s body, including an almost half-centimetre tearing of the tongue caused by the man’s own teeth, but they were all likely the result of thrashing around during his seizures.
Rivera said a blood sample taken while Greene was alive found only about 6.9 micrograms per millilitre of anti-seizure medication in his system, instead of the 50 to 100 mg/ml there should have been.