The mother of an Ontario inmate who was beaten to death by his cellmate within view of a security camera at the Elgin Middlesex Detention Centre in London, Ont., wants to know why jail guards didn’t respond even though her son was begging for his life.
Anthony George was sentenced to life in prison on Oct. 6 for the 2013 beating death of his cellmate Adam Kargus, who was choked, punched, kicked and stomped for over an hour while a jailhouse security camera recorded the beating through the two men’s shared cell window.
The video was released to CBC News by order of an Ontario judge on Wednesday after George made a surprise guilty plea to second-degree murder on the day his three-week trial was set to get underway.
Kargus’s mother, Deb Abrams, had seen the video during George’s pre-trial hearings.
“Horrific, horrific evidence,” she said. “I’ve seen where his bloody body was being dragged to the showers, what are the guards doing?”
In the video, George can be seen through the cell window beating Kargus. Throughout the hour-long violence the jail guards didn’t respond, even though other inmates could be seen at their cell windows trying to alert the guards.
The security cameras show jail guards opening the cells on the range the next morning, after which George drags Kargus’s body wrapped in a bloody sheet to a nearby common shower area.
Son’s face unrecognizable
Abrams said her son had been dead for 12 hours before jail guards noticed.
“He was beaten beyond recognition, they didn’t know who it was,” she said. A piece of fabric was covering her son’s face when she was asked to identify his body in the jail’s shower area.
“Probably wasn’t much of a face left, so I would probably not have believed it was my son, except that this hand had red skull side view, just the outline tattoo not coloured in, and then I knew it was him.”
“He was begging for his life, begging, and other inmates were begging, ‘Help Adam, please help Adam,'” Abrams said. “Everybody heard him.”
“Inmates on the level below said to the guard he’d been beaten, that somebody is getting beat, somebody’s getting murdered up there, and they ignored him,” she said.
While Abrams has heard from police investigators, provincial jail guards and even inmates, nothing prepared her for watching the video that shows her son being killed.
“To see it, it’s very heart-wrenching, it just makes you question more why, why wasn’t it stopped.”
It’s a question lawyer Kevin Egan has heard many times before. He’s representing a number of inmates and their families in cases against the troubled provincial jail.
Jail called overcrowded, understaffed, poorly designed
“The release of the video, I think is important because while some of us have known about the conditions of the Elgin Middlesex Detention Centre for a long time, the public needs to know.”
“Regardless of whether a person is innocent or guilty, they don’t deserve to be beaten in a jail,” he said.
Egan said the Elgin Middlesex Detention Centre is overcrowded, understaffed and poorly designed.
“The supervision model was created when the facility was built in the 1970s. It was originally designed to hold 10 inmates on each unit. Today there are 24 beds on each unit and routinely there are more than 24 inmates on each unit,” noting the inmates often sleep on the floor.
Egan said that people who are being held for trial are often kept in the same cells as violent convicts.
‘What will it take to clean this place up? People have said, “Will it take another death?” Well, that was seven or eight deaths ago.’
– Kevin Egan
“More than half of the people in provincial detention centres are legally presumed innocent, but they’re all called an offender the minute they step through a jail, and they’re not kept separate from the most dangerous people in the province.”
“Regardless of whether a person is innocent or guilty, they don’t deserve to be beaten in a jail,” Egan said.
“What will it take to clean this place up? People have said, ‘Will it take another death?’ Well, that was seven or eight deaths ago. There seems to be a lack of political will to do the right thing.”
Corrections Minister Marie-France Lalonde said Thursday that she hadn’t seen the security video taken from inside the Elgin Middlesex Detention Centre, but that she was aware of its contents.
“I want to pay my respects to the friends and family of the victims,” she said. “My priority is the safety of our inmates and our staff in our institutions.”
The Ontario Liberal government will table legislation this fall aimed at overhauling the corrections system, after the adviser hired to probe the province’s jails released a laundry list of recommendations for reform.
Chief among his new suggestions is to draft a new Ontario Corrections Act to replace existing legislation, which hasn’t been updated in more than three decades.
The report also urges investment in new staff, infrastructure and profound changes to health care provided to inmates.