Family of murdered Vancouver Island man suing prison officials over inmates' escape
The daughters of a 60-year-old Vancouver Island man who was found dead in his home in 2019 are suing the Correctional Service of Canada, claiming negligent prison officials allowed two men to escape from a minimum-security penitentiary and murder their father.
Police found Martin Payne dead in his rural Metchosin, B.C., home on July 12, 2019, after the mail courier failed to show up for work.
Five days earlier, two federal inmates – Zachary Armitage and James Lee Busch – escaped from the nearby William Head Institution, triggering a two-day manhunt that ended when the pair unwittingly struck up a conversation with an off-duty RCMP homicide detective, who recognized the escapees and immediately called police.
Payne's red Ford F-150 pickup truck had been found hours earlier, abandoned on Woodburn Avenue in Oak Bay, B.C.
Multiple police agencies, led by the Vancouver Island Integrated Major Crime Unit, investigated Payne's death for nearly a year before both inmates were charged with first-degree murder.
VIOLENT CRIMINAL HISTORIES
Calla and Jessica Payne, the slain man's daughters, have now filed a civil suit in B.C. Supreme Court, seeking unspecified damages from the correctional service and the wardens of William Head and Mission Institution, the medium-security prison where the men were held prior to their transfer to the island.
The daughters allege that on the night of the escape, Armitage and Busch walked around a prison fence along the shoreline at low tide, passing by an empty guard tower and out into the community.
Prison officials did not discover the men were missing until a routine head count more than four hours later, according to the suit.
Armitage and Busch, who both had violent criminal histories prior to their escape, had been reclassified from "medium" and "high" security risk levels to "low" risk, due to system overrides by corrections officials, the daughters allege.
The reclassification allowed the inmates to be transferred from Mission Institution in the Fraser Valley to the minimum-security island prison.
"The reclassifications of the inmates to a low security level and their subsequent transfer to William Head were the result of operational decisions made by CSC and its employees that were negligent, reckless and contrary to CSC policy," according to the suit.
"Mr. Payne lived less than eight kilometers from William Head, which distance could be covered in approximately one and a half hours by foot," the civil claim says. "Accordingly, Mr. Payne was part of a discrete category of people who lived near to William Head and who might be harmed by inmates escaping that institution."
Busch, who was 42 years old at the time of the escape, was serving an indeterminate sentence for second-degree murder and assault, and was also serving time for aggravated sexual assault and a previous escape from custody.
Armitage, who was 30 years old and had also previously escaped from custody, was serving a nearly 14-year sentence for robbery, aggravated assault and other offences.
"It was a direct and foreseeable consequence of CSC's breach of the standard of care that the inmates escaped from William Head Institution and fatally assaulted Mr. Payne," according to the suit.
In a statement to CTV News on Monday, daughter Jessica Payne said, in part, "it goes without saying that we have been utterly devastated by the loss of our father, a gentle, kind, and hilarious man."
"The realization that he can no longer be a fixture in our lives, offering us guidance, care, and support continues to hit us with as much force as it did three years ago as we struggle to overcome the impacts that his murder has had on us and our family members," she added.
"The horrific and unexpected nature of his death has left us deeply disturbed and has forced us to question the commitment to public safety of our justice system. We feel that irreversible mistakes and breaches of policy were made by Corrections Services Canada, without which, our father would still be here with us today."
'INMATES ALLOWED TO WALK OUT OF CUSTODY'
Neil Chantler, the lawyer representing the daughters, said corrections officials put public safety at risk by transferring the inmates to William Head.
"These inmates were allowed to walk out of custody and into the community in broad daylight," Chantler said in a statement Monday.
"Their absence was not detected for several hours. Their placement at William Head raises important questions about how an inmate's security level is assessed, and when reclassification to a lower security level is appropriate. There appear to be gaping cracks in the system that created the preconditions for this tragedy to occur."
The civil claim says the daughters have "suffered loss and damage, including loss of financial support, loss of inheritance, and loss of guidance, care and companionship," as well as "grievous psychological harm, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress and anguish" as a result of their father's death.
The daughters are seeking general, special, aggravated and punitive damages, as well as damages under B.C.'s Family Compensation Act, which allows family members to sue for damages in the event of a death resulting from negligence or wrongful act.
In the wake of the 2019 escape, the Correctional Service of Canada launched a review of every inmate in minimum-security custody across the country. The review led to the reclassification of 14 minimum-security offenders who were subsequently moved to medium-security prisons.
Nine of the 14 inmates who the correctional service found to be misclassified were at William Head, including Armitage and Busch.
The Correctional Service of Canada did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this story.
Armitage and Busch are scheduled to be tried for Payne's murder this fall in Vancouver.
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