Charges laid in stabbing death during 2016 riot at Saskatchewan Penitentiary

PRINCE ALBERT, Sask. — Three men have been charged with murder in the death of a fellow inmate during a riot that caused $3.5 million in damage at the Saskatchewan Penitentiary in Prince Albert.

Staff found Jason Bird unresponsive in the prison’s medium-security unit on Dec. 14, 2016, after a major disturbance.

Bird, who was 43, was pronounced dead after being taken to hospital.

RCMP say the three prisoners are charged with second-degree murder.

Police say the trio also faces charges of attempted murder in an assault against a 31-year-old inmate who was attacked during the riot.

At least eight inmates were hospitalized for their injuries, while 14 others were charged with various counts related to participating in a riot.

Kelfert Wayne Watetch, 28; Landon Bryce McKay, 21; and Brandon Wyatt Burns, 23, appeared in Prince Albert provincial court on Monday.

Police said the investigation remains open and they expect to lay more charges.

A Correctional Service Canada report released in March said a walkout by prisoners working in the kitchen could have been the catalyst for the riot at the penitentiary, which has minimum-, medium- and maximum-security units.

The final report said a number of issues were already brewing before the violence erupted.

The National Board of Investigation found that prisoners were discontent over issues that included work- and food-related concerns and changes in prison management.

The report said after the kitchen walkouts, other inmates refused to go to work and prisoners on some cell ranges refused to lock up, which escalated the riot.

Inmates set fires, broke windows, smashed walls and blocked doors with fridges, washers and dryers.

The report said inmates in one area destroyed government property, barricaded range barriers, covered their faces and armed themselves with weapons and shields.

Other prisoners reported that once the disturbance began, they feared for their safety if they didn’t participate, which amplified the situation.

The violence lasted for about six hours before it was quelled by an emergency response team.

Ivan Zinger, Canada’s correctional ombudsman, released a report last fall which said the trouble was likely to have been sparked by disputes over small prison cells and food quality and quantity.

He called for an external audit of food services as well as for the reinstatement of a dispute resolution pilot program.

“Current research suggests that a lot must go wrong, and for quite some time, before a prison erupts in violence,” Zinger wrote in his report.

The Canadian Press

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