THUNDER BAY — Two of seven inmates involved in the hostage-taking of a correctional officer at the Kenora jail in 2018 each entered guilty pleas to various charges stemming from the 2018 incident this week.
On Wednesday, April 7, Travis Polkinghorne, 30, pleaded guilty to a string of charges arising from an incident that took place more than two years ago at the Kenora Jail where a correctional officer was beaten, dragged and held captive by a prisoner with a shank as other inmates made demands for drugs in exchange for his release.
Polkinghorne pleaded guilty to hostage-taking, two counts of assaulting a peace officer with a weapon, disarming a peace officer, possession of a prohibited weapon, and uttering threats to cause death. He was handed a six-year jail sentence.
A day later, Patrick Kanate also entered guilty pleas to charges including hostage-taking, three counts of assaulting a peace officer with a weapon, disarming a peace officer, uttering threats on Thursday, April 8. He is scheduled to return to court on May 17 to be sentenced.
Both men along with co-accused, Ryan Nickel, were scheduled to stand trial this week for the September 2018 incident but entered guilty pleas instead of proceeding forward with a trial.
Four other co-accused: Garnet Sumner, Waylon Morton Joshua Pitchenese, and Drayson Waswa each received various sentences for their involvement last year. The sentences ranged from time-served to just over three years of jail time for their involvement.
In 2018, court heard a correctional officer at the Kenora Jail was in the process of moving prisoners from the day area to their individual cells, according to assistant crown attorney Peter Keen. Most of the event was caught video surveillance cameras at the jail.
A video recording shows two inmates, Garnet Sumner and Patrick Kanate rushing a correctional officer inside of their cell and then begin striking, punching and hitting him.
Waswa, Polkinghorne and Morton, Nickel and Pitchenese can be seen using torn bed sheets and towels to stuff a keyhole to prevent access to the day area cell door as well as piling mattresses and sheets in front of the cell bars to prevent other correctional officers outside the block from seeing what was being done to the prison guard being held captive.
The correctional officer’s keys, handcuffs and pepper-spray were taken from him and the keys were then used by Sumner to unlock the rest of the cells in the block.
The officer was pulled into a cell and held captive by Kanate who had a shank. The victim was then instructed by Kanate to handcuff himself to the bed in a cell.
At this point, several correctional were responding to the area and were attempting to engage with the inmates, court heard.
Keen described Polkinghorne as the “primary communicator” for the inmates involved in the hostage-taking and made it clear to other prison staff that Kanate had a weapon and a prior conviction of murder and “would have no problem committing murder again.”
“Mr. Polkinghorne throughout the situation was sort of the spokesperson for the group of inmates that had taken (the complainant) hostage,” Keen said, adding the inmate indicated the reason they took the correctional officer hostage was due to their perceived treatment and rights while incarcerated.
Polkinghorne demanded they be given cigarettes and various prescription drugs including Ritalin and 20 hydromorphone pills.
Correctional staff were repeatedly told by Polkinghorne that if the jail deployed their crisis intervention team or if the demands were not met within a deadline, the officer being held captive would be killed.
Kanate was also in possession of the guard’s radio mic and had the correctional officer being held captive describe on-air what was happening to him.
Throughout the event, correctional staff indicated they could hear the officer being assaulted and crying out in pain, Keen said.
In an agreed statement of facts read in court by the Crown on Thursday, Kanate, at times, would apologize the correctional officer he was holding captive explaining to him he was “one of the good ones” and that he was sorry it had to be him. Kanate would also whisper things to the guard which made him fear for his safety including asking him if he believed in God.
At one point during the hostage-taking, a supervising officer handed over cigarettes, a lighter and three Ritalin pills to the prisoners. The officer observed Kanate, Polkinghorne, Waswa and Sumner crush the pills and snort them.
Polkinghorne also used the pepper-spray he took from the correctional officer to spray other correctional staff through the cell bars. He also spat at two officers on another occasion. Precautionary measures had to be taken by the officers who were spat on because Polkinghorne is a known carrier of hepatitis C.
Further, his co-accused, Waswa, filled a cup with hot water twice and threw it at correctional staff which struck three officers.
A trained negotiator was engaged in order to exchange bundles of tobacco, matches, and rubber gloves for the correctional officer's release.
The inmates were then observed going to the washroom to engage in “hooping” which is the rectal insertion of tobacco for the purpose of hiding it from the correctional officers, court heard.
After three hours, the correctional officer was eventually released and transported to the hospital for a number of soft tissue injuries. He was later released from the hospital.
Court heard the some of the events took place in a “dead zone” for cameras that are known to inmates.
The correctional officer who was held hostage presented his victim impact statement before the court on Wednesday stating the entire event has changed him and he no longer works as a correctional officer.
“This entire experience has been very difficult on me on so many levels,” he said.
He added, despite going through a great deal of difficulty after the event he is no longer angry at Polkinghorne and wants to move on with his life and forgives him.
A second community impact statement focused on the effect the incident had on other correctional staff. Several correctional officers retired early or were forced to go on lengthy sick leave as a result of the incident.
Polkinghorne’s lawyer, Chris Avery, told the court his client has struggled with addiction and mental health issues throughout his life.
As a prisoner at the Kenora Jail, Avery explained Polkinghorne was subjected to frequent lockdowns, overcrowding, and poor cell conditions.
Additionally, Polkinghorne faced several barriers accessing dental and mental health care for years while incarcerated, Avery said.
The hostage-taking situation was a result of “beef” the prisoners had was with the ministry and the underfunding of jails, the lawyer said.
“It eventually reached a boiling point, none of this is an excuse for what happened, it’s context,” Avery said.
Polkinghorne who has now been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder and bipolar disorder expressed through his lawyer he is “extremely remorseful” about the situation.
Crown counsel said although they accepted some element of the argument from defence that inmates were protesting against conditions at the jail, they reinstated that during the hostage-taking, the inmates demanded drugs rather than a change in circumstances.
Lawyers for the Crown also argued the sentence for Polkinghorne needed to send a strong message. Although the hostage was relatively short, it dramatically changed the lives of several correctional officers, Keen said.
Justice Douglas Shaw accepted a joint submission for Polkinghorne for six years behind bars which would be consecutive to his existing penitentiary sentence.
Polkinghorne does not have any pre-sentence custody to attribute to these charges.
He also faces a lifetime weapons prohibition.
Crown counsel also stated they intend to commence a Dangerous Offender application for Kanate.