A correctional officer at an Ontario jail alleges he was assaulted at work by two colleagues following their comments about the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, according to a complaint obtained by The Canadian Press.
The allegations have prompted separate investigations by police and the Ministry of the Solicitor General.
The incident is alleged to have happened on June 3 at Maplehurst Correctional Complex in Milton, Ont., when Steven Smith, a correctional officer who is Black, says he heard a guard “make fun of the death of George Floyd,” to another guard, says the complaint about the incident Smith filed with the ministry.
“I did hear Correctional Officer Barton refer to ‘the knee’ that killed George Floyd in a joking manner,” Smith wrote.
“I also saw that when Correctional Officer Barton realized I had heard his statement, (he) was embarrassed but did not apologize and laughed it off.”
Later that day, Smith was on his way to the muster room to return his duty belt when he noticed Officer Barton and Officer Normor, who are both white, were behind him, presumably on their way to the muster room as well, the report says.
Smith opened the door for the pair after he entered the room, and that’s when he saw Officer Barton run towards him “in a manner that suggested he wanted to fight,” says the report.
“When Correctional Officer Barton put his hands on me and lunged towards me, I found his behaviour assaultive and was very shocked,” Smith says in the report.
Smith alleges Barton tried to wrestle him to the ground, and when Smith managed to push Barton off him, Normor got involved.
“The physical altercation then became a two on one fight between me and Correctional Officers Normor and Barton,” Smith wrote. “I heard both Correctional Officers Normor and Barton yell out ‘cuff him, cuff him!’”
Smith says he saw Normor take out handcuffs and try to place them around his left wrist. He says he was able to fight the pair off and was never handcuffed. At that point, the fight ended, he wrote.
“I was so confused by what had transpired that I tried to verbally get some understanding,” Smith wrote.
“Instead of verbally communicating to me that this was possibly some sort of joke or misunderstanding, Correctional Officer Normor yelled out curse words at me.”
Smith declined to comment when reached by The Canadian Press. Barton and Normor, whose first names were not in the complaint, could not be reached for comment.
The Ontario Public Service Employees Union, which represents correctional officers across the province, declined to comment, citing the ongoing government investigation.
The local union representative for the Maplehurst Correctional Complex did not respond to requests to have messages passed on to the guards. The superintendent of Maplehurst declined comment and also did not respond to requests to have messages passed on to the guards.
The Ministry of the Solicitor General said it is investigating the incident and has also referred the matter to the Halton regional police.
“The ministry has zero tolerance for racism, hate, or discrimination in all of its forms,” said spokeswoman Kristy Denette.
“The ministry takes allegations of harassment and discrimination very seriously. We continue to make efforts to promote professionalism and respect in all our workplaces which includes compliance with respective government policies and directives.”
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Halton regional police Const. Steve Elms said investigators have nearly completed their investigation, including observing video of the alleged incident.
“Charges will likely not be laid,” Elms said, although he added the investigation is not “100 per cent complete.”
Jacqueline Edwards, the president of the Association of Black Law Enforcers, said they are watching the ministry’s investigation closely and have sent a letter to the solicitor general.
“If in fact this incident is confirmed to have been racially motivated, it would further create or reinforce a sense that persons of colour within the ministry are not safe and subjected to institutional racism within the workplace,” she said.
“The important thing is not to impede in the investigation, but ensure it’s known that we’re monitoring — we have a vested interest because many of our members work for this ministry.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on June 19, 2020.