Inquest begins for man killed over bag of chips at Don Jail

An inquest into the death of a man who was murdered in a Toronto jail over a bag of potato chips began Monday — and the jury heard that protections for inmates were possibly inadequate.

It's been nearly 15 years since Jeffrey Munro, 32, a man who was coping with mental illness and addiction issues, died at the Don Jail. He was attacked in his cell by fellow inmate Troy Campbell, who was 26 at the time, on Nov. 7, 2009.

Campbell was handed down a life sentence for second-degree murder in 2012. Court found he became violent after Munro ate his bag of chips. The court found he stomped on Munro's head as he lay in his cot.

Prior to sentencing, the judge presiding over the case, Justice John McMahon, said "this is a tragic case of a defenceless, mentally ill young man losing his life in the Don Jail."

At the time, experts and advocates told CBC Toronto the jail was overcrowded and lacked programming and services to support inmate health. The Don Jail closed in 2013.

Now the details of the case are being revisited as the Office of the Chief Coroner is probing the case in an inquest.

The inquest is mandatory under the Coroner's Act, which requires a probe if an individual dies in government custody.

Coroner's inquests are held to inform the public about the circumstances behind a death. A jury is required to deliver a verdict on the manner of the death, however inquests don't result in criminal charges.

The jury can make recommendations if it chooses.

Witnesses expected in the case are Munro's family members, a psychiatrist who treated Munro as an inpatient, two correctional officers, including the one who found him after he was beaten and witnesses from CAMH.

'A gentle soul'

Munro's family told the inquest Monday how his death has rocked them for well over a decade.

His mother, Christine Munro, said in his early 20s, Munro joined a dance troupe that performed on cruise ships. That's where he ended up becoming addicted to drugs that controlled his life, she said.

"The staff at CAMH  believed in Jeff and felt he had so much potential, but addiction was a fierce battle. He was a gentle soul with a beautiful smile and a contagious laugh," she said.

According to an agreed statement of facts, Munro was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2005, which was made worse through meth use. He spent subsequent years in and out of CAMH.

He was in the Don Jail in November 2009 for committing an indecent act and failing to comply with his probation.

Christine Munro is suing the provincial government and the Toronto Police for what she says is negligence in the death of her son Jeff.
Christine Munro is pictured in a 2013 photo. She testified Monday in the Coroner's inquest into her son's death. (CBC)

Christine said her son was "an unsuspecting, innocent victim of an act carried out with brutal and callous intent."

His loss will stay with her and other family members forever, she said.

"The agony of losing Jeff has changed me as a person and a mother. Having fun, family gatherings, special occasions, mean very little. As we all know, there is something missing," she said.

Munro not found until 2 hours after attack

Kristin Smith, the inquest counsel, told the jury in her opening statement that the goal is to represent the public interest and prevent further deaths in custody.

Smith said Munro was in a unit in the Don Jail for people with special needs or behavioural issues. He was very vulnerable in the jail that had a "culture and design" that did not prevent inmates from being attacked, she said.

According to the statement of facts, in the days before his death, the jail was overcrowded. The unit Munro was in had two jail guards. Sometimes one would go on break and another guard wouldn't replace them, leaving just one to watch the unit.

The original Don Jail was built in 1864.
The interior of the Don Jail is pictured in this 2019 photo. (Darek Zdzienicki/CBC)

The jury was also told that some inmates were designated "corridor men," who were picked by guards to assist with distributing meals and serve as unit cleaners. They were given extra food and their cells were unlocked all day.

Campbell, who killed Munro, was one of these "corridor men," according to the statement of facts.

It's estimated Munro was attacked at around 5:30 p.m. Campbell ordered other inmates to cover Munro with a sheet. By 6 p.m., a correctional officer reported that everything was normal.

At 7:30 p.m., the correctional officer was checking to see if inmates were in their cells. They asked for a response from Munro, who didn't say anything. After the correctional officer saw Munro wasn't moving, a medical alert was issued at 7:37 p.m.

A nurse who got to the cell found Munro was cold to the touch, had no pulse and couldn't be revived. He was pronounced dead at 8:18 p.m.

Guard testifies he was only one on duty

The guard who was on duty, Richard Bacquie, testified Monday that he picked "corridor men" based on who seemed to be able to do the job and sometimes for their size.

The night of the murder, his colleague went on break and he was alone, he said.

He said it was not entirely unusual for someone to be non-responsive, due to mental health issues and as some inmates were "doped up."

When he saw Munro was not moving and Campbell in the cell, Bacquie testified, he was afraid to go inside as he was worried Campbell could attack him.

Munro's mother ended her statement with the words: "Today we seek and pray for change in all phases of our prison system to prevent this from ever happening to someone else. Thank you for listening."

The inquest will continue Tuesday. It's expected to last five days and hear from approximately five witnesses.