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Inquest into Sask. pen inmate’s death reveals mental health issues

Curtis Robert Cozart was only 30 when he was found hanging by a blue bed sheet wrapped around his neck and tied to the doors of his cell at the Saskatchewan Penitentiary on May 23, 2017. 

EMS arrived in Cozart’s cell within minutes of getting a 911 call from prison staff. Paramedics found his lifeless body in a seated position shortly after 11 p.m.

“We cut him down right away,” EMS Oliver Jantz told a jury of six during the inquest Feb. 24-26 in Prince Albert into the inmate’s death.

Jantz testified that Cozart was unconscious and he didn’t have a pulse, a heartbeat or any vital signs.

“He was grey, almost a deathly colour,” said Jantz. 

But Cozart’s body was still warm so EMS staff started CPR and other life-saving treatments. They removed him from his cell, put him in the ambulance and headed to Victoria Hospital, all the while continuing life-saving efforts. 

Jantz said their response time to the prison was only five minutes, which he said is “fairly quick” considering their goal is to respond within seven minutes in Prince Albert.

Dr. Syed Ali testified that Cozart suffered from depression.

He said it was almost midnight May 23, 2017, when Cozart was brought by EMS to Victoria Hospital. 

Dr. Ali said Cozart was brought back to life and put on life support. He had a pulse but went into cardiac arrest twice. Both times hospital staff resuscitated him. His heart was beating and his blood pressure was brought up to 130/65 but it dropped to 73/33.

Soon, however, medical staff determined Cozart was brain dead. That was the morning of May 24, 2017. Doctors then had the difficult task of telling Cozart’s family he was brain dead.  

Dr. Ali said Cozart probably went 15-20 minutes without oxygen after hanging himself.

“Our assessment was that he was brain dead when he came in.”

Cozart was taken off life support and he was declared dead at 10:50 p.m. on May 24, 2017. 

During the inquest, a note, believed to be a suicide note, was entered into evidence. 

Jantz testified he saw track marks on Cozart’s arms but no fresh marks. 

Cozart was found unresponsive by prison staff in his cell at Saskatchewan Penitentiary shortly after 11 p.m. on May 23, 2017. 

Cozart was only seven months into his two-year sentence for assault with a weapon, theft under $5,000, obstructing a police officer and failing to comply with a probation order. 

The coroner’s inquest, led by Timothy P. Hawryluk, Q.C. of Saskatoon, will make conclusions about Cozart’s cause of death and may make recommendations. 

A wake for Cozart was held at the Keeseekoose First Nation in May 2017. 

There were 51 inmate deaths in custody in 2018-19. Of those, 12 per cent (or six) were suicides, according to Correctional Investigator Dr. Ivan Zinger, whose annual report was tabled in Parliament Feb. 18.

Zinger said the number of prison suicides has declined since 2014-15. He added that although the number of attempted suicides fell to 125 in 2018-19, it is still one of the highest numbers of the last 10 years. Indigenous offenders are overrepresented in the number of suicide attempts, making up 39 per cent of all incidents in the last 10 years. 

Two inquests are scheduled this year into deaths at the Saskatchewan Penitentiary. An inquest into the death of Daniel Tokarchuk is scheduled for April 27 in Prince Albert. Tokarchuk died on June 7, 2017.

Lisa Joy, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Battlefords Regional News-Optimist

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