The family of Martin Keith Payne — a man who was allegedly murdered by two inmates who escaped a Metchosin correctional facility in 2019 — is suing the institution, claiming its staff was negligent in responding to the incident that led to the man’s death.
Court documents filed in July show that the Payne family is seeking an undisclosed amount from the William Head Institution — a minimum-security federal correctional facility. The documents say that the institution was “reckless” in responding to the inmates escaping and that Payne’s death was a “direct and foreseeable consequence” due to the facility’s response.
SUMMARY OF INCIDENT
On July 7, 2019, James Lee Busch and Zachary Armitage escaped the prison at around 6:45 p.m. But the staff did not realize the inmates were on the loose until a scheduled head count at 11 p.m.
A formal message from Correctional Service Canada (CSC) was published the following morning at 6:23 a.m. on Twitter. CSC wrote that it was searching for the inmates and were working with local police.
The pair were on the run for about two days until an off-duty RCMP officer recognizing the escapees led to their arrest.
During the time that Busch and Armitage were on the run, police say that 60-year-old Payne was murdered in his home. Neighbours say they heard an unusual commotion.
Payne’s body was not discovered until July 12, during a wellness check after failing to show up for work. His truck was also discovered on the same day in Oak Bay.
Initially, police did not make a connection between the two incidents. However, in June of 2020, BC RCMP formally charged both men with first-degree murder.
ALLEGATIONS OF NEGLIGENCE AND RECKLESSNESS
In the 17-page filing, Neil Chantler — the attorney for the Payne Family — alleges that the prison’s response to the inmates’ escape was “negligent, reckless, and contrary to CSC policy.”
At the time, Busch was serving a life sentence for murder and assault and had a chance of parole in 2025. Armitage had been serving a 14-year sentence for multiple offences including robbery and aggravated assault.
According to the documents, the two inmates had been serving their sentences at Mission Institution — a medium-security prison in Mission, B.C. — but were both transferred to William Head after being “reclassified” from high-risk inmates to low-risk.
The family alleges that CSC was reckless in lowering the risk level of the two men and that their escapes were “a result of operational decisions.” In addition, the plaintiffs say that CSC breached the standard of care by failing to notify the public and police in a timely manner.
CORRECTIONAL SERVICE OF CANADA RESPONSE
The Correctional Service of Canada has responded to the lawsuit.
“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. As CSC is reviewing the claim and the litigation is in its early stages, we are not in a position to further comment on this at this time,” said CSC in an emailed statement to CHEK News.
CHEK News also reached out to Chantler but did not hear back.
None of these allegations have been proven in court.
Court documents show that the initial filing was made on July 8, 2022, with a response time period from the defendants of 35 days. As of August 13, 2022, no response has been filed.
A trial for the murder of Martin Payne is set for the fall.