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Teen hit guard two days before death: inquiry

CTV.ca News Staff

Jan. 10 2005 - A teen who fell to his death down an elevator shaft at an Edmonton courthouse struck a female guard two days before, according to testimony at a fatality inquiry that began Monday.

Sixteen-year-old Kyle Young died Jan. 22, 2004, when he was in the prisoners' area of the provincial courthouse.

Young was in shackles and handcuffs and was being escorted by two guards. There were reports of a scuffle when the elevator door opened and the teen plunged to his death.

A review by Alberta's Justice Department last year said guards pushed the boy against the door, the door opened and he fell.

During Monday's proceedings, a provincial security guard who works at the law courts described a violent side to Young -- highlighting an event that occurred two days before Young's death when the teen assaulted a female officer.

Const. Enio Perizzolo said Young swore and hit a female guard repeatedly at a holding cell after the teen was told to stop making noise.

When Const. Karin Simmons tried to move Young to a separate cell, Young attacked her, Perizzolo testified.

"Kyle started swinging, striking her on the back and chest area," he said. Perizzolo added that he had to step in to help tackle Young to the floor and handcuff him.

"He was screaming: you're dead, I'm going to kill you," said Perizzolo.

Lorena Young, Kyle's mother, was at the inquiry. She said she hopes the inquiry, headed by provincial court Judge Jerry LeGrandeur, will answer some key questions about her son's death.

She wants to know if excessive force was used by the guards and if the elevator door was defective.

She said it was difficult to be in the courtroom listening to the testimony, but said "It's a relief just to have it started .. Finally it's here. There's no more waiting."

"A person died, be it my son or yours. Let's not have this happen again. What can we do to prevent it?" she asked.

The inquiry also heard from an Alberta government elevator expert Al Griffin, who said the elevator door that Young fell through was designed not to open unless a car was there.

Griffin also testified, however, that the elevator door was installed prior to building code changes that require fail-safe mechanisms to be in place. The door, which was on display in the courtroom, was installed in 1981, said Griffin. Under Alberta law, older elevators are not subject to the code changes, he said.

An investigation by Edmonton police found there was insufficient evidence to lay charges against the guards. The province said guards used "a modest amount of restraint" and followed "normal procedures."

The inquiry is scheduled to continue until Jan. 21. On Tuesday, two young offenders who were in the prisoner area when Young died are slated to speak to the courts.

Earlier Monday, an Alberta government elevator expert testified the elevator door that Young fell through was installed prior to building code changes that require fail-safe mechanisms to be in place.

Al Griffin told the inquiry the door, which was on display in the courtroom, was installed in 1981.

Four years later, the building code was changed requiring new elevators to have pieces of metal called retainers to prevent doors from falling open. But under Alberta law, older elevators are not subject to the code changes, he said.

"These prevent the door from falling in," Griffin said while holding the metal device up for the court to see.

"There is no requirement for retroactivity in the (safety) code."

The elevator was inspected a month before Kyle's death and was found to meet safety standards.

Griffin testified the elevator door was not designed to open unless the elevator car was in place.

He also said the government privatized elevator inspections in the early to mid-1990s. Five agencies called delegated administration organizations are responsible for the work.

Kyle's mother has said he was an average teenager but suffered health problems including attention deficit disorder, hyperactivity disorder and oppositional defiant disorder.

He had a history of brushes with the law for offences such as stealing cars, she said. On the day he was in court, reportedly on a weapons charge, he had been in custody for four or five days.

She has said when Kyle was on his medication he was easy to deal with, but when he wasn't, he could be a handful.

Public fatality inquiries establish the cause, manner, time and other circumstances of a death. They cannot determine legal responsibility, but only make recommendations to prevent future deaths.

With a report from CFRN's Carmen Woida and the Canadian Press


Security boss quizzed

TONY BLAIS, COURT BUREAU


January 21, 2005 - The security boss for Edmonton courts denies doing anything wrong by having guards involved in a prisoner's elevator death questioned before their interview by police. Testifying yesterday at a fatality inquiry into the Jan. 22, 2004, courthouse death of Kyle Young, 16, Mel Bertsch admitted he sent a secretary to get a joint statement from the three men in a boardroom where they were kept together for five hours before being taken to police headquarters.

"I asked the three officers for a quick overview as to what had happened so I could report to my superiors," said Bertsch, the director of security operations for courthouses in Edmonton, Red Deer and Wetaskiwin.

Bertsch said he had no concerns about the trio being together before their police interviews and no thoughts regarding a possible "contamination" of the evidence.

"It never even entered my mind," said Bertsch.

Inquiry counsel David Syme questioned Bertsch about a standard incident procedure where guards submit individual reports which are combined into one final report "so you don't get a cooked version of what went on."

Syme asked: "Why wasn't that kind of procedure followed?"

Bertsch replied he didn't think it was an issue.

"I guess my belief was the officers involved, they are honest, professional people," said Bertsch. "I just never looked at it that way."

City homicide detectives later questioned the guards in separate videotaped interviews.

The inquiry has heard the three court constables were trying to restrain the agitated, handcuffed and shackled Young in the youth court cell block while awaiting an elevator to move him down to a basement holding-cell area.

Ali Fayad earlier testified he pushed Young into the elevator door by putting his forearm on the teen's back and leaning in as Chris Chambers pinned the struggling Young against the door by gripping his neck.

As Young made contact with the elevator, the elevator door made a loud "pop'' and swung wide open, said Fayad, who tearfully testified he watched the teen as he fell five storeys.


 

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