MONTREAL — The family of a Quebec man who died this week in a Florida prison says they want answers about his cell conditions and the circumstances surrounding his final months.
Sacha Bond died Sunday, two weeks shy of his 36th birthday.
The Gatineau, Que., native had been on life support since mid-July when he was rushed to hospital in Tallahassee, Fla., from Apalachee Correctional Institution.
In his last letter to his family dated July 5, he’d written about being placed in a solitary cell with poor ventilation and black mold on the walls. Rushed to hospital in a coma, he was taken off life support July 31 but fought for two additional weeks before passing away on Aug. 16.
His mother, Diane Levesque, says she suspects the conditions in his cell led to his death.
“It was a hard thing to go through, to see my own son dying in front of me,” she said from Florida, where she’s waiting to collect her son’s remains before returning home. She is also waiting to hear back from a private autopsy she ordered on her son’s body.
“It was sudden and it was because of that cell, it was because of where they put him,” she said.
Levesque said her son described the alleged squalid conditions he’d found himself in for refusing to return to his old cell due to safety concerns.
“It has no ventilation at all, it’s so hot I sweat all day,” Levesque said, reading from her son’s July 5 letter. “I have a heat rash all over my body, there is black mold all over the cell, this should be illegal. I don’t know what to do to get out of this cell.”
On July 13, with a 105 C fever and having collapsed in his cell, he was taken to hospital.
The Florida Department of Corrections did not respond to a request seeking more information about Bond’s death.
The deceased man’s older brother, Eric Bond, said his family had consulted with the Canadian consulate about his brother’s cell conditions and he said officials agreed to send someone to the prison.
Bond said it was by chance the consulate official informed them Sacha was hospitalized — no one from the prison had told the family.
He thought at first his younger brother was simply overcome by scorching summer heat and would come out of it. But those hopes were dashed upon learning his brother’s diagnosis : irreparable brain damage, kidney failure, a blood infection and liver failure.
“It’s like watching someone getting squashed in a garbage compactor in slow motion — that’s how I felt,” Bond said from his Montreal home.
Sacha Bond was on a family holiday in the Florida Keys in 2004 when he was arrested for aggravated assault in a strip bar at the age of 19.
No one was hurt in the altercation, but Bond’s family says he refused to take a plea deal and went to trial on four counts of attempted murder. He was found guilty and given a 20-year sentence.
The Canadian government green-lighted his transfer to Canada on two previous occasions, but his family said Florida officials had steadfastly denied him a return to his home country.
This week, Global Affairs said it was “aware that a Canadian citizen recently passed away in the United States” and offered condolences. It said in a statement it was working to gather additional information and was providing consular assistance but couldn’t say more due to privacy concerns.
Bond believes Ottawa could have done more to push back against U.S. authorities’ refusal to transfer his brother.
“They could have done something to get the ball rolling — but they never did,” he said.
Bond said his brother was denied dignity — armed guards routinely booted his mother out at 7 p.m. and he remained handcuffed despite being near death. “Sacha was still chained to the bed three hours after he passed and my mom was thrown out of the room at 7 p.m. and he died at 8:07 p.m.”
Bond said for him, negligence and cruelty led to Sacha’s death. He would’ve been eligible for release sometime in the coming two years, according to his family.
“Throughout this whole odyssey of seeing him in prison for 17 years, we really thought that his tenacity and his courage would have seen him come out,” Bond said. “I miss my brother and it’s a sad, sad story.”
This story by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 20, 2020.
Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press