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Life in Sask Pen 'nasty, brutish and short,' says judge

A fight broke out between members of the same street gang on a maximum security unit, court heard.

PRINCE ALBERT – Life inside Saskatchewan Penitentiary is “nasty, brutish and short,” said Justice Richard Danyliuk, quoting English philosopher Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan.

“This is an apt description for life in a maximum-security unit such as that in the Saskatchewan Penitentiary,” said Justice Danyliuk on March 1 when finding inmate Joshua Brendan Bird not guilty of assaulting another inmate.

Court heard that Bird was a serving prisoner in the max unit on Oct. 7, 2019, when another inmate, Elwin Goodpipe, was badly beaten and hospitalized. Bird was charged with aggravated assault.

An argument had broken out between Goodpipe and another inmate when they were playing cards in the common room of C range.

All the inmates involved in the assault on Goodpipe lived on C range, which has two eight-cell units, for a total of 16 cells. The common area has a seating area and other amenities, including laundry machines. The area is monitored by video cameras.

The inmates were from the same street gang and were “friendly with one another,” court heard.

A Prince Albert RCMP sergeant took photographs of the inside of Goodpipe’s cell and noted most of the blood was on, or near, the bunk. There was also blood splatter on all four walls, the floor, and the ceiling.

“The photographs graphically depict and reflect what appears to have been a savage beating,” said Justice Danyliuk.

Officers seized a pile of wet clothing from the common area, and they were dried in the DNA drying cabinet.

None of the inmates involved – including Goodpipe – would co-operate or provide statements, court heard.

A Security Intelligence Officer (SIO), who gathers intelligence and information on inmates in prison, notably gang activity, testified that the video evidence showed Goodpipe entered his cell and very shortly after, four other inmates gathered outside his cell. Three inmates went inside, which is a rule infraction in the prison, and Bird stood at the doorway of Goodpipe’s cell.

When Bird briefly entered the cell, for about eight seconds, his hand was on the door jamb, as seen in the video evidence played in court.

The three other inmates are seen leaving Goodpipe’s cell. Shortly after, prison guards provide first-aid to Goodpipe and he is taken away in a wheelchair.

Two inmates are then seen on video putting laundry into the clothes' washer.

The SIO went to Goodpipe's cell to get photos, but she said because of the amount of blood, she decided not to enter and disturb the scene and instead contacted the RCMP.

She went to the hospital to speak with Goodpipe, but he didn’t co-operate. She said she noticed he had serious head injuries and his arm appeared to have been broken. Goodpipe was in hospital from Oct. 7, 2019, to Oct. 14, 2019.

The SIO said she was familiar with Bird and dealt with him at Edmonton Institution.

Bird, now 35, was the only defence witness. He testified that he grew up in and around Regina in a series of foster homes, and his first language is Plains Cree. He is a status member of Ochapowace First Nation.

On the stand, Bird admitted that he has been involved in a number of assaults while incarcerated, and described himself as a “bad inmate” saying he could be disruptive in prison, defied guards, fought with other inmates and broke the rules.

Bird denied, however, participating in the assault against Goodpipe, testifying he only thought it was going to be a one-on-one fight, and he went to watch and didn’t act as a look-out. He said they were all from the same street gang.

Knowing about the range cameras and how they operate, Bird said he stayed in the doorway of Goodpipe’s cell and only entered briefly and kept his hand on the door jamb, so the video would show he wasn’t going all the way into the cell.

He admitted to watching Goodpipe being beaten into unconsciousness and then told his follow gang members, “that’s it, he’s out,” and to stop the beating. He said he was mad at his fellow gang members and backed out of the cell.

Bird testified that he was aware of the panic buttons in the cells but didn’t want to press it during the assault because it would “come back on” him, label him a “rat” and get him stabbed. He said prison, and especially maximum security, is a violent place.

“I have looked at all of the evidence before me and I first find that I believe Mr. Bird when he described what occurred that day,” said Justice Danyliuk. “Even if I could not fully accept his evidence for some reason, I find it raises a reasonable doubt as to whether he was involved to a sufficient degree to be a party to this offence.

“There is no proof Mr. Bird engaged in any act of aiding or abetting the other assailants, nor of the requisite intention on his part.”

Bird’s defence counsel had described his behaviour as, “rubbernecking,” watching, and that's not a crime, said Justice Danyliuk.

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