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Family of Newfoundland inmate who died in custody indicates legal action

Samantha Piercey is shown in court in this file photo.
Samantha Piercey is shown in court in this file photo. - Western Star file photo

Minister says possibility of litigation prevents him from meeting with Samantha Piercey’s mother

Lisa Piercey has vowed to get answers about what happened to her daughter, 28-year-old Samantha Piercey, who died by suicide in May while incarcerated at the Clarenville Correctional Centre.

Lisa Piercey has requested to speak to Justice Minister Andrew Parsons about it, but no meeting has been set up.

On Tuesday, Parsons told members of the media he cannot speak to Piercey at this time because the family has initiated legal action.

“The first thing I can say to Mrs. Piercey is that I extend my condolences to her on this tragedy. Mrs. Piercey has been in contact with people within our department, but we’ve also received correspondence from her lawyer and usually in those situations, when you hear from a lawyer, the most appropriate way to handle it is to have lawyers from your department deal with that,” Parsons said. “There’s the possibility of litigation here. That’s what’s been communicated to us by her lawyer.

“I have no problem meeting with individuals. I’ve met with family of other individuals who have lost loved ones before, but in this particular situation, given what I’ve been sent, I think this is the most appropriate way. And this is how we would handle any situation like this.

“This is one of those really tough situations, because as a person I have no issue talking to anybody, especially someone who has gone through a tragedy. I don’t know what it is like to lose a son or daughter, but as a person in this position, any lawyer will tell you that you have to refrain from putting yourself in any position where you could end up in a courtroom.”

Samantha Piercey’s death came not long after the April 21 death of Skye Martin, 27, who was an inmate at the same facility. Martin's death was reported as the result of choking on her food, but, like Piercey’s death, it remains under investigation. Both events followed an Aug. 31, 2017 death of a man being held at Her Majesty's Penitentiary in St. John's.

Parsons earlier announced that retired police Supt. Marlene Jesso has been asked to conduct an independent investigation into all three cases, covering whether or not the policies and procedures affecting the inmates were appropriate, as well as staff responses.

Parsons said although he wants answers for the families as soon as possible, there is no time limit on that investigation.

“We are concentrating on an investigation and we would all like to find the facts of what happened here, and I think that family, and all the families we are dealing with, would like to have that information, as well,” Parsons said. “I wouldn’t want someone to say they were rushed to come up with a conclusion. I’d rather they take all the time they need. We’ve promised (Jesso) all the resources she needs to make sure this is done and done right. Ms. Jesso is the one with the investigative experience. I’ll let her do her job. She’s the expert and the professional here.”

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