Investigation into man killed over bag of chips in Don Jail begins

An inquest opened Monday into the death of a man who was murdered in a Toronto jail over a bag of chips, with the jury hearing that protections for prisoners may have been inadequate.

It’s been nearly 15 years since Jeffrey Munro, 32, a man who struggled with mental illness and addiction, died in the Don Jail. He was attacked in his cell by fellow inmate Troy Campbell, who was 26 at the time, on Nov. 7, 2009.

Campbell was sentenced to life in prison in 2012 for second-degree murder. The court found that he became violent after Munro ate his bag of chips. The court found that he stomped on Munro’s head as he lay in his crib.

Before the verdict was delivered, Judge John McMahon, who heard the case, said that “this is a tragic case of a defenseless, mentally ill young man who lost his life in the Don Jail.”

At that time there were experts and advocates told CBC Toronto the prison was overcrowded and lacked programs and services to support the health of inmates. Don Jail closed in 2013.

The details of the case are currently being reviewed as the Office of the Chief Coroner investigates the matter in a criminal investigation.

The inquiry is mandatory under the Coroner’s Act, which requires an inquest to be held when someone dies in government custody.

Coroner’s inquests are held to inform the public about the circumstances behind a death. A jury must reach a verdict on how the death occurred, but inquests do not result in criminal charges.

The jury may make recommendations if desired.

Witnesses expected to testify in the case include Munro’s family members, a psychiatrist who treated Munro as a patient, two prison guards, including the one who found him after he had been beaten, and witnesses from CAMH.

‘A gentle soul’

Munro’s family told the inquest on Monday that his death had shocked them for more than a decade.

His mother, Christine Munro, said Munro joined a dance company in his early 20s that performed on cruise ships, where he eventually became addicted to drugs that took over his life, she said.

“The staff at CAMH believed in Jeff and felt he had so much potential, but addiction was a tough battle. He was a gentle soul with a beautiful smile and infectious laugh,” she said.

According to an agreed statement of facts, Munro was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2005, which was exacerbated by meth use. He spent the next few years in and out of CAMH.

In November 2009, he was booked into Don Jail for committing an indecent act and violating the terms of his probation.

A woman staring straight ahead
Christine Munro is pictured in a 2013 photo. She testified at the inquest into her son’s death on Monday. (CBC channel)

Christine said her son was “an unsuspecting, innocent victim of an act carried out with brutal and heartless intent.”

His loss will stay with her and other family members forever, she said.

“The pain of losing Jeff has changed me as a person and as a mother. Having fun, family gatherings, special occasions, mean very little. As we all know, something is missing,” she said.

Munro found only 2 hours after attack

Kristin Smith, the defense attorney who led the investigation, told the jury in her opening statement that the goal is to serve the public interest and prevent further deaths in custody.

Smith said Munro was in a unit at Don Jail for people with special needs or behavioral issues. He was particularly vulnerable in the jail, which had a “culture and design” that did not protect inmates from attack, she said.

According to the facts, the prison was overcrowded in the days before his death. The unit Munro was in had two guards. Sometimes one would go on break and another would not replace them, leaving only one to keep an eye on the unit.

Interiors of the Don Prison
The interior of Don Prison is seen in this 2019 photo. (Darek Zdzienicki/CBC)

The jury was also told that some prisoners were designated as “corridor men”, chosen by guards to help distribute meals and clean the unit. They were given extra food and their cells were unlocked all day.

According to the facts, Campbell, who murdered Munro, was one of these ‘corridor men’.

It is estimated that Munro was attacked around 5:30 p.m. Campbell ordered other prisoners to cover Munro with a sheet. At 6:00 p.m., a prison officer reported that everything was normal.

At 7:30 p.m., the prison guard checked to see if the prisoners were in their cells. They asked Munro for a response, but he said nothing. After the prison guard saw that Munro was not moving, a medical alert was issued at 7:37 p.m.

A nurse arriving at the cell found Munro cold, pulseless, and unable to be resuscitated. He was pronounced dead at 8:18 p.m.

Guard testifies he was the only one on duty

The guard on duty, Richard Bacquie, testified Monday that he selected the “gangmen” based on who could do the job and sometimes based on their size.

The night of the murder, his colleague went on vacation and he was alone, he said.

He said it is not uncommon for someone to not respond due to mental health issues or because some inmates are “under the influence of drugs.”

When he saw Munro not moving and Campbell in the cell, Bacquie testified that he was afraid to go inside because he feared Campbell would attack him.

Munro’s mother concluded her statement by saying, “Today we seek and pray for change in all areas of our prison system to prevent this from ever happening to anyone else. Thank you for listening.”

The investigation continues on Tuesday. It is expected to last five days and hear approximately five witnesses.

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