Union blames understaffing, layout of courtroom
(Canadian OH&S News) — A deputy sheriff at the Halifax provincial courts required medical attention following a brief scuffle with members of the public, after a courtroom appearance by aspiring rap musician Carvel Clayton on Nov. 14.
The incident occurred while sheriffs were escorting Clayton, who is charged with second-degree murder, out of the courtroom. Several people rushed the sheriffs and Clayton, knocking one of the workers to the ground. The injured sheriff needed time off work following the incident, according to a media release from the Nova Scotia Government & General Employees Union (NSGEU).
“When they were taking the person out, someone yelled out, ‘Get him!’ and people started swinging and throwing things,” said NSGEU president Jason MacLean, describing the melee. “And then our members were stuck in the middle trying to keep peace and trying to get this person out of there safely, which they ended up doing, but then they had to restrain some other people.”
No one from the public was hurt, according to the Nova Scotia Department of Justice.
“There were several staff members on hand, and the incident only lasted a matter of seconds,” said Justice Department media-relations officer Sarah Gillis. “It was remedied quite quickly, due to the fast action of the sheriffs as well as the police.”
A press statement from the Department called the incident “unacceptable,” but praised the sheriffs’ response.
“Our sheriffs handled the situation under very challenging circumstances. They have a tough job,” the statement read.
MacLean said that there had already been similar incidents in Nova Scotia courtrooms, “but nothing on this level.” He blamed several factors, including understaffing and poor equipping of the sheriffs, for the outcome of the Clayton scuffle.
Last year, the province’s Liberal government commissioned a report to assess workplace violence. The result, known as the Beacon Report, made 51 recommendations to mitigate significant risks to both the public and court sheriffs. But the government has yet to implement any of the recommendations, citing budget constraints, MacLean charged.
“They know that there are deficiencies within the system,” he said. “They won’t release the Beacon Report to the media or to the public because they don’t want to tell everybody the vulnerabilities that are in the system, yet they’re not filling the role in getting rid of these vulnerabilities.” This is why Nova Scotia’s courtrooms are understaffed and sheriffs cannot carry side arms or tasers, he added.
The layout of the courthouse, built in 1860, was another factor in the Clayton incident, MacLean pointed out. While other Nova Scotia courtrooms have separate entrances for offenders, the accused must use the public entrance and exit at the Halifax one.
“Our members have to walk them through and in front of all the public to get up to their spot in the courtroom,” said MacLean. “This is the only courthouse in the province that has that physical makeup.”
The Justice Department stated that it had conducted a proactive risk assessment prior to Clayton’s court appearance and increased police security as a result.
“Sheriffs keep us and our courtrooms safe. We have a duty to keep them and the public who use our courts as safe as possible,” the Department’s statement read. “Although we try very hard, it is very hard to eliminate all risk.”
The statement added that it would conduct an internal review and that police were investigating the incident.
“We are constantly working on improving safety. We are implementing recommendations.”
MacLean was skeptical, calling the Department negligent.
“If somebody gets hurt or somebody gets killed, it is indeed negligence,” he said. “They know what they can do to fix it, and they’re refusing to do it.
“And it’s going to happen again until they do it.”
Clayton, 21, is facing charges for the shooting death of Shakur Jefferies. The victim, also 21, was found deceased in Halifax on Nov. 12.