There are many stories lived inside a penitentiary center that go beyond the reason people end up in there, there’s the testimonies of those who have experienced violence from guards, to psychological manipulation and mental health.
An example of this is the case of Joey Benoit Fiorita, which was jailed at the Vancouver Island Regional Correctional Center (VIRCC), who now seeks justice, be heard, and publicize the terrible experience he lived the day after he was confined on January 26, 2021.
Joey was already going through a severe mental health crisis and when jailed, it went out of control and worsened as time progressed. His situation included extreme panic and anxiety attacks that made it difficult for him to breathe. In addition, to his already diagnosed paranoia and mental delusions.
As part of the protocols for COVID-19, new prisoners were assigned an induction unit with a duration of 14 days, Benoit was sent to this special cell.
Tensions were high due to Benoit being assigned with Correction Officer, Filipovic, who were not fond of each other from a previous jail sentence. On January 27, 2021, Filipovic and Benoit had a confrontation, where both exchanged negative comments. Consequently, Joey was taken to an isolated segregation block.
Isolation and lack of interaction with other people were contributing to the decline of Benoit’s mental health. While confined, he had suicidal thoughts, as the only option to escape his mental condition. During his time in segregation, there was no television or anything to occupy his mind, he had nothing to do, only to sleep away as much of the day possible.
Not only that, he was tormented by the guards who knocked on the cell door, while performing their security routines and insulted him. In addition, phone calls were restricted and he was unable to call an attorney or the West Coast Justice Society.
Joey spent almost a month locked in a room the size of an elevator. This process had strongly affected his well being, he never received medical attention or a visit from a professional. On February 25, 2021, he had emotionally reached his ability to cope, collapsed, and cried in despair.
One of the Correctional Officers, Stolz, approached the door of Benoit’s cell and asked him why he was crying. Benoit explained that he was still in a mental health crisis beyond his control and that he was worried and upset about his partner and his upcoming appointment with a cancer specialist after receiving alarming results.
Upon hearing his response, the Officer Stolz started laughing at him, followed by a heartless comment to Benoit. It had become a fairly common pastime for Stolz to frequently make rude comments and practical jokes. This eventually resulted in a verbal argument between Joey and Stolz.
The following day, on February 26, 2021, four VIRCC guards arrived at his cell to take him out. They ordered him to place his hands in front of his body to put the handcuffs on him. He was then asked to kneel in front of his bed with his back towards the guards because shackles were going to be placed on his legs.
One of the guards was Officer Stolz, who stood behind him on his right side placing his hand on Benoit’s shoulder and applied force and pressure. According to Benoit’s report, no physical contact was required at the time as he did what he was ordered to do and was wearing handcuffs.
Joey asked the officers to take his hand off his shoulder. He did not respond, but instead looked at his co-workers for approval to ignore him. None of the other officers asked to remove his hand from Joey’s shoulder. Again, Stolz began to laugh at him and applied more force.
Seconds later Joey Benoit shrugged, trying to shake himself off. Meanwhile, another guard, Officer Takhar, placed the shackles on his legs. Nonetheless, the crew believed his moves were intentional to confront Takhar.
Therefore, guards reacted quickly to the so-called ‘assault’ and hit Joey face down with his legs raised. Stolz struck him repeatedly on the jaw and lateral head. Officers were directed to exit the cell, after the door was closed and within a short time, they returned and removed the handcuffs. Joey later apologized and explained that his intentions at the time had nothing to do with Takhar.
This prompted the presence of the Swat team. Officers placed a camera outside the cell, but it was not pointing inside. The staff read Joey’s rights as they ordered him to lie on the ground, face down and with his arms outstretched on either side of his body.
Once Benoit was in that position, the guards re-entered the cell. Then Benoit began to shout, “I’m complying! I’m complying! I’m on the ground!” At the same time as he shouted those words, he was kicked in the head, smashed against the ground and received blows to various parts of his body, causing him multiple injuries, spreading blood throughout the cell.
As Joey was transferred to the observation unit and passed through the lens of the camera, he tried to show his face to try to record his injures on camera. Joey’s wounds required stitches but received no medical attention. He was also not given the opportunity to shower or wipe off the blood. The injuries were visible and painful for almost a month. The bruises on his face were also there for a few weeks.
Regarding this incident, Joey Benoit has not been able to obtain a copy of the photo taken that day. Despite having submitted several requests of freedom of information inside and outside the prison. He was ordered to file a complaint with the Bureau of Investigations and Standards and was informed that copies of the photograph could be obtained during the investigation.
Finally on June 2, 2021, he received a copy of the photo from Freedom of Information but failed to serve its purpose of helping his defense case. Up to date, there has been no document, incident report or statement provided by VIRCC, CO, CS or any other staff member that includes details of what happened on February 26, 2021.
However, Incident Report #081551-01, shows confirmation that Benoit Fiorita was injured. They note that at the time he was concentrating on Stolz’s firm grip on his shoulder and wanted him to remove his hands. Nonetheless, there are no details that describe the type of injuries or any treatment thereafter.
Benoit now seeks his case to be known by the public and for justice to be served for what happened on February 26, 2021.
It is shocking to know the stories that happened behind bars and how important it is for inmates to be treated with dignity and respect.