A coroner’s inquest jury into the 2016 death of John Michael Murphy at Surrey Pretrial Services Centre has recommended better surveillance of prisoners, better communication during shift changes and optimizing “speed of access” for emergency personnel responding to a crisis.
Murphy, 25, died on Aug. 3, 2016, after a fight with his cellmate during which Murphy was held in a choke-hold for longer than 10 minutes. John Cole Burt, 22, pleaded guilty to manslaughter and in 2018 was sentenced to five and a half years in prison.
The inquest began Nov. 12, on the 20th floor of 4720 Kingsway in Metrotower II in Burnaby, and the jury was charged on Nov. 19. Presiding Coroner Larry Marzinzik determined the homicide occurred by “neck compression due to or as a consequence of strangulation.”
The jury made five recommendations for BC Corrections, BC Ambulance Service, BC Corrections, Fraser Health Authority and Surrey Memorial Hospital, toward preventing similar deaths from happening.
Andy Watson, manager of strategic communications for the BC Coroner’s Service, noted that a coroner’s inquest is not designed to assign blame but rather the Coroners Act “permits the chief coroners to hold an inquest if the public has an interest in being informed of the circumstances surrounding a death, or if the death resulted from a dangerous practice or circumstance.”
The jury recommended that BC Corrections “reinforce, with additional and ongoing staff training,” the existing standard operation procedures for the segregation unit “with respect to compliance regarding the safety and security for staff and inmates, specifically with reference to log book documentation, visual unit cell checks, synchronization of video camera time displays” and “exchange of critical information between staff during shift changes.”
The inquest jury also recommended that BC Corrections also consider expanding its video monitoring system “to supplement existing visual unit cell checks,” using larger monitors and software that provides automated rotating cell views, and training staff to use any new technology.
“Consider changing policy to prevent inmates who are involved in the same incident of violence, and are sent to segregation pending a disciplinary hearing, from being placed together in the same cell,” the jury further recommended.
It also recommended that BC Corrections and BC Ambulance Service collaborate to devise a plan “to optimize speed of access for responding emergency personnel to all areas to the Surrey Pretrial Services Centre” and that BC Corrections, Fraser Health Authority and Surrey Memorial Hospital “collaborate to develop a mutually acceptable protocol for the handling and security of inmates in a hospital environment.”