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Family sues OPP, others, for more than $2M after woman dies in Sudbury, Ont., jail

The family of Justine Docherty, who died by suicide in November 2020 while incarcerated at the Sudbury Jail, is suing police and other officials for more than $2 million. (Photo from Mundell Funeral Home) The family of Justine Docherty, who died by suicide in November 2020 while incarcerated at the Sudbury Jail, is suing police and other officials for more than $2 million. (Photo from Mundell Funeral Home)
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The family of a woman who died by suicide in November 2020 while incarcerated at the Sudbury Jail is suing police and other officials for more than $2 million.

The family of Justine Nicole Docherty alleged in its statement of claim that police knew she had mental health challenges and was threatening to end her own life, yet they left her in a cell without taking special precautions.

The suit is filed on behalf of several family members, including Docherty’s two children. It seeks $500,000 in general damages, $100,000 each for 17 family members listed in the suit, as well as other damages determined by the Superior Court of Justice.

No allegations listed in the suit have been proven in court and no statement of defence has been filed.

The suit details a timeline of events that led to Docherty’s death in jail Nov. 1, 2020.

She was wanted Oct. 13 of that year on outstanding charges by Ontario Provincial Police in Bracebridge, along with a second person.

“On or about Oct. 19, 2020, she voluntarily turned herself in to Orillia OPP,” the statement of claim said.

“Justine was taken to the Central North Correction Centre in Penetanguishene to await a bail hearing. After several days in custody, Justine was released on bail with conditions that she reside with her father Earl Docherty and abide by the rules of his house. At the time, Earl Docherty was in the process of moving from Orillia, Ont., to Sudbury, Ont.”

While she was in Sudbury, her father became concerned that she wasn’t abiding by her bail conditions and considered revoking himself as her surety.

“He decided to go with Justine to the Bracebridge OPP station to obtain information regarding his options,” the court document said.

“On or around Oct. 28, 2020, Earl was driving Justine to the Bracebridge police station when she suddenly fled the vehicle.”

At that point, her father contacted Bracebridge OPP, who asked Earl whether his daughter was suicidal. He suggested they ask Justine’s sister, Ashley.

“During the relevant time, Ashley had received several text messages from Justine advising that she was suicidal and that she would kill herself if she had to go back to jail,” the lawsuit said.

The Sudbury Jail, which is currently undergoing $10 million in renovations, was "vastly overcrowded and understaffed" at the time of Justine Docherty's death in November 2020, a lawsuit alleges. (File)

“Ashley reported Justine’s suicidal ideation to the Bracebridge OPP and further advised that Justine had a history of mental illness. A large-scale search for Justine was undertaken by Bracebridge OPP with the knowledge she had breached her bail conditions, that she was suffering a mental health condition and that she was suicidal.”

OPP in Orillia then reported they had pulled over a vehicle in which Justine was a passenger. Police in Bracebridge told Earl she was being taken to hospital in Orillia for a mental-health evaluation.

“However, Orillia OPP did not arrest Justine, nor take her to (hospital), despite OPP awareness of Justine’s breach, her mental health condition and her suicidal ideation,” the lawsuit said.

ALLOWED HER TO DRIVE AWAY

“Instead, (they) allowed her to drive away with her two friends. Justine then headed to Sudbury where she stayed at a hotel.”

She was taken into custody by Sudbury police Oct. 30 and placed in the Sudbury Jail, but not placed on a special watch despite her mental health condition.

“The plaintiffs state that the Sudbury police were aware or ought to have been aware of Justine’s mental health condition including her suicidal ideation,” the lawsuit said.

“The Sudbury police officers involved failed to bring Justine for an assessment and/or failed to properly communicate her reported mental health issues including her suicidal ideation to officials with the Sudbury Jail or others who may have assisted her.”

The suit also accuses staff at the Sudbury Jail of failing to live up to their responsibilities to protect her while she was incarcerated.

“The Sudbury Jail is a 100-year-old provincial institution operated by the Crown through the ministry,” the lawsuit said.

“It originally was built to house a much smaller population. At the relevant time, it was vastly overcrowded and understaffed.”

The suit said Docherty was placed in an inadequately supervised cell by herself. She was not placed on suicide watch and there were no cameras inside the cell.

“Guards who toured the area did so at predictable times and not at irregular intervals as required,” the lawsuit said.

“Justine was able to predict when she would be unsupervised and thus able to commit suicide. She received no counselling or other assistance in dealing with her mental health crisis.”

The suit was filed Jan. 3 and names the OPP, unnamed police officials and the Greater Sudbury Police Services Board as defendants. 

HELP IS AVAILABLE

If you or someone you know is in crisis, here are some resources that are available.

Crisis Services Canada (1-833-456-4566 or text 45645), Centre for Suicide Prevention (1-833-456-4566) or Kids Help Phone (1-800-668-6868) offer ways of getting help if you, or someone you know, may be suffering from mental health issues.

If you need immediate assistance call 911 or go to the nearest hospital.

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