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Daughters suing prison system over B.C. man’s death following prison break

Civil suit alleges Correctional Service of Canada staff failed repeatedly in death of Martin Payne
James Lee Busch and Zachary Armitage escaped from the William Head institution on July 7, 2019 and were subsequently charged with first-degree murder in the death of martin Payne of Metchosin. A civil case launched by Payne’s daughters blames the correctional system for their escape and the death of their father. (Correctional Service of Canada/Facebook)

The daughters of a B.C. man allege the actions and inaction of prison officials resulted in the 2019 death of their father.

Calla and Jessica Payne are suing Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) staff on behalf of their late father, Martin. Their suit claims negligence of the correctional service and its employees leading to the escape of two prisoners near Victoria caused or contributed the death of their father.

Inmates James Lee Busch and Zachary Armitage are charged with the first-degree murder of then 60-year-old Martin, whose body was found in July 2019, days after the two men were recaptured.

On the evening of July 7, 2019, Busch and Armitage escaped from William Head Institution in Metchosin, triggering a multi-day manhunt. Two days later, Victoria police officers arrested the wanted men after Busch and Armitage commented on an off-duty RCMP officer’s dog in Esquimalt. That same day, Oak Bay police officers found Payne’s red Ford pickup truck on Woodburn Avenue, a long way from his Metchosin home.

On July 12, police attended Payne’s home in the 1000-block of Brookview Drive for a well-being check and found his body inside his home before deeming the death suspicious.

The daughters’ civil suit lists Canada’s attorney general, the commissioner of the correctional service, the wardens of the jails in Metchosin and Mission and their staff as defendants.

The court action targets how both men received correctional service “overrides” that deemed them worthy of lower security levels – thus justifying their transfer from Mission to minimum-security William Head in 2018. Those security levels are based on factors including an inmate’s risk of escape and their risk to public safety. The civil claim notes those risk reclassifications came despite the inmates’ violent histories, related convictions and continued conduct while incarcerated.

The plaintiffs call the inmates’ reclassifications and their resulting transfers the result of operational decisions made by the correctional service and its employees that were negligent, reckless and contrary to correctional service policies. The suit contends that in allowing the transfer officials failed to consider the inmates’ likelihood to reoffend – particularly committing a violent offence or escaping custody – and the reclassifications were in contrast with CSC’s own policies.

It also states that it should’ve been foreseeable the pair would escape given their past conduct and would subsequently cause harm to members of the public, particularly nearby residents such as Martin Payne. It adds the defendants breached the standard of care owed to the public with their many failures.

The court filing cites events leading up to the escape, noting a razor wire in the water at William Head was removed when it became a minimum security site, which allowed the inmates to flee at low tide before passing an unmanned guard tower. The daughters claim the pair then fatally assaulted Martin sometime during the two days they were on the loose.

The filing calls out CSC staff for not adequately supervising the inmates, not properly securing the jail perimeter to prevent escape and not considering the inmate’s prior escapes.

The daughters’ claim says William Head guards, upon realizing the inmates were missing, delayed or failed to take steps that would’ve minimized the likelihood of inmates causing harm. It contends that they failed to detect the escape, notify police in a timely way or at all and notify the public.

Allowing the CSC to escape punishment for its “grossly negligent behaviour” would also diminish the community’s respect for the administration of justice, the suit states.

The daughters say they’ve faced care, companionship and financial losses, and have suffered psychological harm including depression, anxiety, PTSD and anguish over the loss of their father.

They seek numerous but unspecific damages, including whatever relief the court deems just.

Their claims have not been proven in court.

READ: William Head prison escapees charged in homicide of Metchosin man Follow us on Instagram. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Jake Romphf

About the Author: Jake Romphf

In early 2021, I made the move from the Great Lakes to Greater Victoria with the aim of experiencing more of the country I report on.
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