POLITICS

Nova Scotia mother suing province over son's jail death from methadone overdose

06/09/2015 08:33 EDT | Updated 06/09/2016 05:59 EDT
HALIFAX - The mother of a Nova Scotia man who died in jail from a methadone overdose is suing the province, alleging a lack of control over a potentially deadly drug led to his death.

Twenty-three-year-old Clayton Cromwell was found unresponsive in his cell in the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Halifax on April 7, 2014.

Cromwell was awaiting a court appearance for allegedly violating probation in a drug trafficking case.

Methadone is provided to some inmates by nurses with Nova Scotia Health Authority to treat addictions, but it remains unclear how Cromwell received it. A medical examiner's report stated that he hadn`t been prescribed methadone.

The notice of action filed last week by Clayton's mother, Elizabeth Cromwell, alleges the jail failed to set up sufficient safeguards to prevent the flow of the potentially dangerous drug through the prison.

The statement's allegations haven't been proven in court, and a provincial spokesman says the province is expecting to file a statement of defence soon.

The statement of claim says the province "failed to institute ... safe procedures for the prescription and distribution of methadone for use within the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility when it knew, or ought to have known, that the drug was routinely trafficked ... and that the drug could cause death if used improperly."

It includes 10 other allegations, including that the jail was overcrowded, that supervision was inadequate, that there weren't enough guards and there weren't enough searches.

Devin Maxwell, the lawyer representing the family, said an internal investigation report provided to the family doesn't resolve how the young man obtained methadone.

"That's what I still want to know: how did he get those drugs?" he said.

Maxwell said he expects the legal process will include subpoenas for information from the Halifax police investigation into that issue.

However, the lawyer said the report does provide useful information for the family's lawsuit and prompts further questions.

Maxwell said the July 22, 2014 Justice Department report states that another inmate overdosed on methadone the day before Cromwell died.

The lawyer said the report says the men were locked in their cells, but it doesn't indicate if a search was carried out.

"To me, if somebody overdoses on the unit. ... I would conduct a search and I would check all the other inmates on the unit to ensure they hadn't taken the same thing the guy who had overdosed had taken," he said.

Maxwell declined to provide the report to the Canadian Press.

The Canadian Press has requested the internal report through the freedom of information legislation and is currently appealing to the review officer to have portions of the report released.

Cromwell also says the report concludes that an intercom system that allowed inmates in one of the unit's cells to call for help wasn't working, causing a delay in the response after Cromwell was found unresponsive in his bed by his cellmate.

"If the inmates don't have the ability to report an emergency to the staff, I think it's certainly an issue. Whether it's relevant to this case remains to be seen," said Maxwell.

"There are questions why those intercoms were disabled in the first place and why the one that was working wasn't working that night."

Andrew Preeper, a spokesman for the province, declined to comment on whether a search for drugs occurred after the first overdose.

The Department of Justice's policy on searches in provincial jails says, "searches of physical plant of the facility and its perimeter must be conducted as necessary to ensure the safety and security of the facility, staff, offenders and the community."

He also declined to comment on whether a failure had occurred in the intercom system, or on any other aspect of the report`s findings cited by Maxwell.