Serious questions surround death of Black inmate in Montreal jail

Nicous D’Andre Spring

Correctional officers at a Montreal jail allegedly used pepper spray on a 21-year-old inmate before he died of injuries he sustained while in detention.

Sources indicate that Nicous D’Andre Spring was wearing a spit hood when agents pepper sprayed him.

A spit hood is a restraining device made of mesh that is placed over a detainee’s face to prevent them from spitting or biting.

Spring, who was illegally detained in Bordeaux jail, died the day after a physical intervention there on Dec. 24, the Public Security Ministry has confirmed. Spring was supposed to have been released on Dec. 23 following a bail hearing via video conference.

A correctional officer and an administrator at the jail were suspended as of Dec. 29, a spokesperson for the Ministry said in an email.

The 21-year-old man who died last week at a Montreal jail should have been released the day before he was fatally injured. Officers reportedly used pepper spray and a spit hood on Nicous D’Andre Spring before he died.

Although weapons such as pepper spray may be used in certain interventions, officers don’t always follow procedure, Quebec’s ombudsman said in a recent report.

In the ombudsman’s 2021-2022 report, the agency noted that officers have failed to decontaminate inmates and premises targeted by pepper spray, which can have “major consequences for the detainees concerned.”

It recommended corrective measures to the Public Security Ministry.

Michael Arruda, a former correctional officer specializing in crisis intervention, says officers should be properly trained before using restraining tools.

“When you put on a mask, you have to make sure the person can breathe well, that the person is feeling well, that they have no psychological problems,” he said. “The agent has to be listening to what is going on.”

Spit hoods are used to create “a psychological effect” of disempowerment on the detainee, Arruda said, while pepper spray is applied to momentarily neutralize the person and allow the officer to restrain them.

“Each on its own is already dangerous,” he said. “I would be very preoccupied, very worried about the effects of putting both of them together.”

Quebec’s provincial police and the coroner’s office are currently investigating Spring’s death.

The Public Security Ministry says it will conduct an administrative investigation into the events that occurred, “including, in particular, the illegal detentions.”