'I'd never sleep again'

St. John's corrections officer awarded Medal of Bravery for rescuing his partner

Louis Power lpower@thetelegram.com
Published on September 8, 2009
Corrections officer Shawn Lahey of Kilbride is to receive a Governor Generals Medal of Bravery for his actions in saving a colleague at Her Majestys Penitentiary in St. Johns. Lahey subdued an inmate who had attacked his partner with a weapon in a failed hostage- taking. Photo by Gary Hebbard/The Telegram

Shawn Lahey was recently awarded a Medal of Bravery by Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean. He told The Telegram the story of what happened the night he came to his partner's rescue.

Corrections officer Shawn Lahey and his partner were letting Unit 1 prisoners out one at a time for their showers at Her Majesty's Penitentiary one night in January 2006. They were not prepared - or properly trained - for what happened when it was prisoner Richard Driscoll's turn.

Shawn Lahey was recently awarded a Medal of Bravery by Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean. He told The Telegram the story of what happened the night he came to his partner's rescue.

Corrections officer Shawn Lahey and his partner were letting Unit 1 prisoners out one at a time for their showers at Her Majesty's Penitentiary one night in January 2006. They were not prepared - or properly trained - for what happened when it was prisoner Richard Driscoll's turn.

"My partner opened a cell and let the inmate out," said Lahey, recalling the incident. "He grabbed a hold of him around his neck and put a shank up to his throat."

Lahey hit the panic button and yelled for backup, but didn't have time to wait for help to make it down the elevator.

"I went in and basically disarmed him, and we both got him on the floor and handcuffed him," he recalled.

"It was scary. I mean, I didn't have much time to think about it. I just reacted. But I've never really seen any of our staff members ever in that type of peril before.

"We've been in lots of confrontations, but there's usually a lot more of us. It kind of took me aback for a split second."

He said his partner at the time - whom he said would rather remain anonymous - had blood on his shirt from where Driscoll's shank punctured him, but he got away without any serious injury. He said the prisoner appeared to be on drugs and he had taken his partner hostage in an attempt to escape.

"I think he probably was using him as leverage," he said. "I think he probably would have (hurt him)."

Lahey said his reaction was basic instinct and was not something he had prepared for in training.

"My personality alone wouldn't let me not react," he said. "I'd never sleep again, I don't think, if I didn't do something. That's just the way I'm put together."

Lahey has been working as a corrections officer at the prison for almost 16 years, and said the training provided for dealing with such encounters is inadequate. Training for use of force, he said, takes up only two days out of the year. Fortunately, he had done some personal training in Kempo karate.

"If you're not practising it, it's useless. It's as simple as that. I mean, you forget it a couple of days later," he said. "It's only the last two years, maybe, that we're after getting any training, and this is basically because Occupational Health and Safety is after pushing."

Despite his courageous response to the dangerous situation, Lahey is humble - almost shy - about having been awarded a Medal of Bravery by Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean.

"I'm no good for this limelight. This gives me more anxiety than the incident itself," he said.

Lahey, along with several others from across the country, will receive his decoration at a ceremony this fall.

lpower@thetelegram.com