Pubdate: Sat, 20 Aug 2016
Source: Toronto Sun (CN ON)
Page: 3
Copyright: 2016 Canoe Limited Partnership
Author: Michele Mandel


'Epidemic' of drugs forces judge to acquit jail guard

Instead of hard time, inmates are doing high time in prisons that 
sound more like drug dens than detention centres.

An Ontario judge was recently forced to acquit a jail guard and an 
inmate on drug trafficking charges because the "epidemic" of illicit 
substances in the jail left a reasonable doubt about whether the pair 
were responsible for the pot and hash oil discovered during a search.

Drugs are so common at London's Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre 
(EMDC), said Ontario Court of Justice John Skowronski, that a 
surveillance video inside the jail showed a "veritable conga line" of 
inmates apparently waiting their turn to buy what was being sold in 
the showers outside of camera range.

"The existence of drugs in EMDC is seemingly epidemic in scope," 
noted the judge. "When a vigilant officer ... has to indicate the 
lack of a smell of drugs is something that peaks her attention - that 
speaks volumes."

Surveillance video from the morning of Valentine's Day 2015 shows 
Correctional Officer Tanya Zavitz passing two bulky white packages to 
inmate Nestor Moran, the judge said. "Moran told the accused Zavitz 
to retrieve some items from a mailbox at a residential location in 
London and deliver it to him at EMDC. She did exactly that ... I am 
sure she did not think she was getting tickets to the movie theatre."

The video showed her passing the packages into the "cage" and the 
inmate stuffing them into his pants, he continued.

"Moran took the items and goes to the shower area, the only area in 
the common area not on video surveillance. And after that, there is a 
veritable conga line of inmates going to and from the shower area."

Four hours after the handoff, three of 12 cells were searched and 
guards discovered 0.88 grams of marijuana, a lighter and tobacco 
packaging in Cell 2; 14.59 grams of marijuana, 1.79 grams of 
marijuana, an empty white envelope, a lighter, tobacco, cigarette 
packaging and rolling papers in Cell 4 and in Cell 5, 1.59 grams of 
marijuana, 20.9 grams of hash oil, 1.32 grams of granular hash, one 
white envelope, rolling papers, cigarettes, raw leaf tobacco and drug 
paraphernalia, including a homemade bong made out of a shampoo bottle.

Moran's lawyer, Josh Tuttle, successfully argued that the case 
against his client was entirely circumstantial: Drugs were commonly 
found in the jail and no one could say when the unit had last been searched.

"There was nothing to suggest that those drugs weren't already there, 
which was a red flag from the start," Tuttle said.

The judge also agreed the contraband seized from the three cells 
"would far outstrip" what could have been stuffed into the two white 
envelopes passed to Moran.

As for the pot and hash oil discovered in his cell, his cellmate had 
previously pleaded guilty to possession of the same drugs.

Witness after witness conceded drugs were everywhere in the jail and 
staffing shortages meant the cells weren't searched often.

Correctional guard Tammie Moir testified the unit was infamous for 
its constant pot smell: "It would normally have a haze, a cloud, an 
extreme odour of marijuana."

Didn't anyone think that was a problem?

Prison manager Jacqueline Brandt told the court that drugs are 
sometimes discovered on a daily basis and while the protocol was 
"supposed to be" monthly searches, they don't have the manpower to 
always do that. And they aren't unique. "All the jails I've been to 
in Ontario seem to have similar problems: They are understaffed and 
overworked. Drugs are rampant virtually in every jail that I've ever 
visited," Tuttle said.

So how are they getting in? How many guards are involved?

In this case, the judge hinted he was left with little choice but to 
acquit both.

"Speculation is easy. Proof is not," concluded Skowronski, but not 
without adding some harsh words for Zavitz.

Saying she didn't know what was in the envelopes was almost more 
troubling, he said. "It could have been a weapon like a razor blade 
or blades generally. It could have been a number of drugs, drugs of 
any nature, serious or not," he scolded. "Clearly, Correctional 
Zavitz, in the court's view, should not be a correctional officer."

But how many are just like her?
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