Murder and segregation: the story of Adam Capay and Sherman Quisses
Capay has been kept in solitary confinement for four years, accused of murdering Sherman Quisses in a jailhouse spat.
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THUNDER BAY, ONT.—Their lives, in many ways, ran on parallel tracks. Two men from reserves in northern Ontario, each with a spotted history of run ins with the law.
But it was jail that brought Adam Capay and Sherman Quisses together. Their lives intersected in the most sinister way.
One of them is now dead, and the other has risen to national prominence as the poster boy for the cruelties of solitary confinement. Capay has languished in segregation at a Thunder Bay prison for four years as he waits to go on trial, a revelation that has provoked shock and outrage across the country. Yet he also stands accused of murdering Quisses in a jailhouse spat on June 3, 2012.
Quisses’s aunt Zelda, who lives in the remote community of Fort Hope, feels a mix of sympathy and anger at the sudden attention paid to her nephew’s accused killer.
“To be honest, I feel he deserved the treatment that he got. But as a caring person, I do feel sorry for him too,” she said. “I guess when you do something, you have to face the consequences of whatever you did to a person, the crime you committed. You have to face it.”
What actually transpired is up for dispute, but what’s known for sure is that Quisses died and Capay was charged with first degree murder. The day it happened, a bunch of inmates dared Capay to eat a fat beetle that was scuttling around, according to one prisoner who was at the Thunder Bay Correctional Centre that night.
“He ate it,” recalled the prisoner, who was listed as a witness on court documents. “I guess something in that spider juice made him go crazy.”
Later, at around 1 a.m., the prisoner woke in his bunk in an open range dormitory. He asked that Torstar News Service protect his identity, for fear of reprisal over what he saw: Capay scuffling with Quisses, who lay in his bunk a few beds down. “It all happened really fast,” said the prisoner. “I thought they was just fighting.”
The Crown alleges that Capay, who was weeks shy of turning 20, used some sort of “instrument” to “attack and puncture” Quisses’s carotid artery, according to court documents. The 35-year-old man bled out through his neck and died.
From that gruesome scene, suffering has spun out in all directions. Quisses died just a week before his release, his family says. He left behind a young son, Tristan, and a host of other grieving relatives.
Meanwhile, Capay was transferred to the Thunder Bay Jail, a maximum security prison in an ashlar sandstone fortress where an estimated 90 per cent of inmates identify as indigenous. Earlier this month, Ontario Human Rights Commissioner Renu Mandhane toured the jail and witnessed Capay’s condition, after the local union president and corrections officer Mike Lundy told her “she had to know.” She learned that Capay has been in segregation since 2012; 23 hours a day, alone beneath glaring lights in a plexiglass cell. Mandhane told Torstar last week that she spoke with Capay, who is now 24. He told her he couldn’t tell night from day, and showed her scars from his attempts at self-harm.
The story has summoned calls from Mandhane and others to put an end to solitary confinement at provincial jails. Breese Davies, a criminal defence lawyer in Toronto, called Capay’s treatment “unconscionable” in light of how the United Nations has deemed solitary confinement for 15 straight days to be a form of torture. On Friday, Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day posted a statement on Facebook describing how he visited Capay this week. “I'm so pissed off at the system and what it has done to so many of our people and what it continues to do today,” he wrote. “There is no rhyme or reason for what Adam Capay is going through.”
In response to the revelations, Ontario’s corrections minister, David Orazietti, pledged an external review “of the corrections system as a whole” and insisted this week that the province’s goal is to use segregation only as a last resort. That’s on top of the review announced earlier in October, scheduled to be finished by next spring, that will aim to find ways to reduce the use of segregation at provincial jails. It also comes 19 months after another solitary confinement review was called by Orazietti’s predecessor, current-Attorney General Yasir Naqvi, whom Lundy claimed to have told about Capay last January, when he visited the jail. Naqvi’s review, concluded this month, was done internally and resulted in a new rule to cap consecutive days in segregation at 15 instead of 30.
On Wednesday, Orazietti put out a statement saying Capay had been moved to a different cell, which has lights that can be dimmed and access to showers and a television. Lundy told Torstar that, contrary to Orazietti’s statement, Capay remains in segregation and was only moved due to construction in the prison. “What’s going to happen when construction’s finished—he’s going right back to where he was,” Lundy said on Friday.
Capay’s parents and siblings, who live on the Lac Seul First Nation near Sioux Lookout, did not want to speak with Torstar, on instructions from Capay’s lawyer. He is still accused of killing Quisses, and they don’t want to say something that could harm his case. The trial has been postponed three times since he was charged in June 2012: once for a psychiatric assessment, which deemed Capay fit to stand trial; again when he challenged the makeup of his jury as unconstitutional for a lack of diversity, a motion he lost; and then when he fired his first lawyer just before proceedings were to begin again this fall.
His new lawyer, Tony Bryant, told Torstar: “We are doing our upmost to represent Mr. Capay in the defence of his first degree murder charge and to take all possible steps to ensure that his rights are protected.”
Rob Sakamoto was one of Capay’s teachers at the Queen Elizabeth District High School in Sioux Lookout. He said that Capay was “in and out of youth detention centres” over the years, but that is not uncommon for many young people in the communities around that town. “We as a society, like Adam, need to own the role we have played in the past, what we are doing in the present, and our responsibility to support First Nations communities on their path to healing in the future,” he said. “Youth like Adam deserve better.”
For Quisses’s family, the massive profile of Capay’s confinement has brought up complicated feelings. “I don’t know why so many feel sorry for him. He took my nephew away from me,” said his aunt, Jessie during an interview at her Thunder Bay apartment. “I loved Sherman, my boy, so much. I raised him when was a baby,” she said, tightly clasping her hands with tears in her eyes.
Speaking with Torstar in downtown Thunder Bay, Quisses’s son Tristan, now 18, said he remembers every detail from the day his father died. He was playing video games back home in Neskantaga First Nation when his aunt called for him upstairs to tell him his dad was stabbed in jail. Tristan and his mother rushed to take the next flight to Thunder Bay. Hours later, he was standing over his father, who was now hooked up to life support at the hospital with bloodstained bandages wrapped around his neck. “I touched his cold hand and said farewell dad,” Tristan said.
Four years later, the grade 12 student is on track to graduate next June. He plans to become a police officer—“cops and robbers” was one of the favourite games he used to play with his dad — and ultimately, one day, leave Thunder Bay.
“Life is hard on the reserve, you know, life is hard being First Nation,” he said. “To work as a police officer in Toronto or Ottawa—that’s my dream because that society is peaceful compared to life on the reserve.”
Four years after Quisses’s death, his alleged killer is still waiting to go on trial in the Thunder Bay Jail. Earlier in October, the Ontario Human Rights Commission released a report that concluded there is an “alarming and systemic overuse of segregation” at Ontario jails. Between October and December 2015, more than 4,100 inmates spent at least one day in segregation; more than 1,500 of them—38.2 per cent—had a “mental health alert” on file. Nearly a quarter of segregation placements in the report exceeded two weeks—with 15 days being the UN threshold for torture.
In 2013, a ruling from the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario ordered that inmates put into segregation receive a handout that spells out their rights while in solitary confinement. The handout stipulates that a review of their segregation must be done every five days, while another review that includes the inmate’s mental health needs and explores any alternatives to solitary confinement, must be done for every 30 days of continuous segregation. For each 30-day review, the prison superintendent must report on an inmate’s segregation to the Assistant Deputy Minister of Institutional Services.
In Capay’s case, this would mean that the assistant deputy minister should have received dozens of reports on his segregation.
The Thunder Bay Jail superintendent, Bill Wheeler, and the acting superintendent Deborah McKay, did not respond to questions about Capay’s confinement, or whether the handout protocols were followed in Capay’s case. The assistant deputy minister, Christina Danylchenko, did not return calls or emails from Torstar, either.
Spokespeople for the corrections ministry and Minister Orazietti also did not respond to questions about solitary confinement, Capay’s case, and the segregation protocol.