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Family of Metchosin man allegedly killed by prison escapees sues corrections officials

Police found the body of Martin Keith Payne in his Metchosin home on July 12, 2019, after he was reported missing from work. The 60-year-old had been fatally assaulted.
James Lee Busch, left, and Zachary Armitage. HANDOUT PHOTOS

The family of a Metchosin man who was allegedly killed by two prison escapees has filed a lawsuit against corrections officials seeking damages.

Police found the body of Martin Keith Payne in his home on July 12, 2019, after the mail courier was reported missing from work.

The 60-year-old father had been fatally assaulted in the house on Brookview Drive, according to the lawsuit filed in B.C. Supreme Court by his two daughters.

Two inmates had earlier escaped from the nearby William Head Institution, a minimum-security federal prison, says the suit.

Several months earlier, the inmates had been transferred from Mission Institution, a medium-security prison in the Fraser Valley.

The lawsuit filed by Calla Payne and Jessica Payne states that in the case of both inmates, an “override” assessment was done that allowed them to be moved to William Head by the Correctional Service of Canada.

“The reclassification of the inmates to a low security level and their subsequent transfer to William Head were the result of operational decisions made by CSC and its employees that were negligent, reckless and contrary to CSC policy,” says the suit.

“Mr. Payne lived less than eight kilometres from William Head, which distance could be covered in approximately one and a half hours by foot. Accordingly, Mr. Payne was part of a discrete category of people who lived near to William Head and who might be harmed by inmates escaping that institution.”

The suit says that on July 7, 2019, five days before Payne’s body was found in his home, the inmates escaped William Head by walking around a perimeter fence at the shoreline during low tide, passing an unmanned guard tower before walking into the surrounding community.

Inmates at William Head are free to walk around the 87-acre property surrounded on three sides by the Pacific Ocean, with the perimeter secured by guard towers and a single eight-foot fence that stops short of the water, says the suit.

Later that evening, the inmates were discovered to be missing after a scheduled head count, but it wasn’t until the following morning that CSC posted a message on Twitter acknowledging that the inmates had escaped and that CSC was working with police to locate them.

The inmates were at large for about two days before being re-captured.

CSC’s response to the prison escape was allegedly negligent, reckless and contrary to corrections policy.

“When William Head guards determined the inmates were not present at the 11 p.m. scheduled head count, they delayed or failed to take steps that could reasonably have been taken and were likely to minimize the likelihood of the inmates causing harm to members of the public, particularly Mr. Payne and the plaintiffs,” says the lawsuit.

“It goes without saying that we have been utterly devastated by the loss of our father, a gentle, kind and hilarious man,” Jessica Payne said in a statement released by her lawyer Neil Chantler.

“The realization that he can no longer be a fixture in our lives, offering us guidance, care and support, continues to hit us with as much force as it did three years ago as we struggle to overcome the impacts that his murder has had on us and our family members.”

Jessica Payne added that the “horrific and unexpected” nature of her father’s death had left the family deeply disturbed and forced them to question the commitment to public safety of the justice system.

“We feel that irreversible mistakes and breaches of policy were made by (CSC), without which, our father would still be here with us today.”

Chantler said in a statement that the two inmates with violent criminal backgrounds and a history of escaping from prison were reclassified and transferred to a low-security institution.

“They escaped with ease and committed a heinous crime. There appears to be gaping cracks in the system that allowed this to happen.”

James Lee Busch and Zachary Armitage have been charged with first-degree murder in connection with Payne’s death and are expected to go trial in the fall.

“The Correctional Service of Canada confirms that we have received a claim related to the escape of James Lee Busch and Zachary Armitage from William Head Institution,” says an email from CSC. “As CSC is reviewing the claim and the litigation is in its early stages, we are not in a position to further comment at this time.”

Busch and Armitage have pleaded guilty to escape from lawful custody and have been sentenced each to a year in prison.