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Family of brutally beaten inmate complains of stonewalling

The Kingston Penitentiary is shown in an April 19, 2012 photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Lars Hagberg

Anxious relatives of a brutally beaten inmate are accusing prison authorities of deliberately stonewalling their efforts to find out exactly what happened and treating them disrespectfully.

For one thing, they said, no one at Millhaven penitentiary called to alert them that James (Andrew) Fontenelle was on life support with brain injuries.

“They didn’t let us know,” said Tanya Brown, mother of Fontenelle’s five-year-old son.

“I’m just getting the runaround. They won’t tell me anything because of their privacy policies. They’re trying to keep us in the dark.”

Following the Oct. 8 incident, Correctional Service Canada issued a bare-bones statement saying a Millhaven inmate had been sent to hospital following an assault, and both the prison and provincial police had been called in to investigate.

Fontenelle’s family said they only discovered what had happened because another inmate alerted a friend, who told Brown.

From what they have been able to piece together, several men assaulted Fontenelle, 34, of Toronto, who was serving a three-year sentence for gun possession and was soon to be paroled.

He spent a week in intensive care at a hospital in Kingston, Ont., before being transferred to the prison hospital.

On Friday, his parole officer said he had been moved to a rehab hospital, where he was expected to spend at least a month, said Fontenelle’s father, James Fontenelle Sr., 74, of Brampton.

However, the hospital told him their son was not there, the distraught father said.

“We have to go through so many people to get any information,” he said.

“People have been hanging up phones on us. Telling us we can’t call. It’s very disturbing.”

Fontenelle Sr. said two guards were stationed at the intensive care unit yet no one was able to prevent the beating that left his son unable to walk, sit up or barely speak.

Both he and Brown said they were given the runaround trying to arrange to see Fontenelle — and when they were allowed to see him, it was under severely restricted circumstances.

The hospital directed calls for information to the prison, which said they could not provide any, he said.

“It’s traumatic for us just him being in jail much less to be going through this,” the father said.

Provincial police confirmed Fontenelle was taken to hospital in critical condition following an assault that occurred when three inmates entered his cell.

Three inmates faced charges of assault causing bodily harm and were to appear in court in Napanee on Dec. 3, police said.

Fontenelle was one of the last inmates to be moved from Kingston penitentiary, which closed Sept. 30, prompting questions about whether overcrowding at Millhaven played a role in what happened.

“I would surmise that the closure has resulted in more than one issue thus far,” said prisoner advocate Lee Chapelle.

A few weeks before the beating, a parole officer visited the Fontenelles to discuss their son’s pending release, his father said.

The family was anxiously looking forward to having him home but that has been thrown into doubt now.

“We were making plans to have him and making plans to be with Andrew to turn his life around,” his father said. “He was looking forward to it, too.”

While the inmate has made progress as swelling on his brain diminishes, his prognosis remains unclear to his family.

“My sadness lies with how worn the parents have grown throughout this,” Chapelle said.

Assistant warden Vicki Willis refused to return calls seeking comment.

In a statement, Correctional Service Canada said it adheres to protocols and could not discuss the situation due to privacy rules and because the matter was under investigation.