Mother struggling for answers after son dies in jail from methadone overdose
Published Thursday, February 12, 2015 7:36AM AST Last Updated Thursday, February 12, 2015 10:33AM AST
Clayton Cromwell is shown in a family handout photo. (THE CANADIAN PRESS)
HALIFAX -- Elizabeth Cromwell has been fighting for almost a year to get answers about the jailhouse death of her son, a 23-year-old who was in prison awaiting a court hearing when he suddenly overdosed on methadone.
What she has found out so far doesn't add up. Clayton Cromwell wasn't part of a methadone treatment program, leaving his mother wondering how he obtained the drug in the Halifax jail and what safeguards were in place that may have saved his life.
"I want justice for Clayton," she said in a telephone interview. "This ... devastated my life. I don't want somebody else's mom getting a phone call and a visit from the chaplain."
Cromwell was found unresponsive in his cell at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility on April 7. At the time, he was being held for a court appearance on a drug trafficking charge after he was arrested while on probation.
A medical examiner's report provided by Cromwell's family says he died accidentally from an overdose of methadone. The amount of methadone found in his blood according to the report is consistent with a single therapeutic dose, depending on one's body weight, the Capital District Health Authority said.
But Cromwell wasn't supposed to be taking the drug and he "did not have extensive prior methadone use and tolerance," says the report.
Cromwell's mother said she wants to know whether rules governing the distribution of methadone were followed and whether reforms are needed, but her appeals for answers have been rebuffed by government officials while a police investigation continues.
Her own freedom of information request for an internal inquiry was refused. Officials cited the need to protect her dead son's privacy.
But the bits of information the 52-year-old woman has received disturb her and lead to more questions.
On the day before Cromwell's death, all inmates were locked up in the unit for a search, prison records say. His mother said he didn't call her that day, which was unusual for him.
Those same records say another inmate was rushed to a hospital as staff distributed medications.
The next day, a chaplain came to his mother's home to tell her Cromwell died.
Cromwell said the lack of information on her son's case adds to her grief as his birthday approaches on Monday.
She's left wondering whether her son's cell was among those searched for drugs and whether another inmate had an overdose the day before.
The Capital District Health Authority said it provides methadone to inmates who were undergoing methadone treatment prior to incarceration and the dosages are in liquid form. Methadone can be used to treat withdrawal symptoms for addicts as well as for pain medication.
There are no plans to launch an external investigation, the health board said.
"We await the outcome of the current police investigation," it said in an email. "If any new information is presented that suggests an investigation by our staff is warranted, we would consider doing so at that time."
A Justice Department report into Cromwell's death says the jail has reviewed the incident to see if standards were met. But the report, obtained by The Canadian Press through a freedom of information request, is mostly blanked out citing privacy and security reasons.
Justice Minister Lena Metlege Diab declined comment but a spokesman for her department said contraband is a problem throughout the correctional system.
Halifax police Const. Pierre Bourdages said while Cromwell's death is still under investigation, it is not suspicious.
Cromwell said her son had promise and was turning his life around.
He was a skilled hockey player who won awards for his academic achievement in junior high school, she said. He studied business for one term at Saint Mary's University but withdrew from the school and worked at the local shipyard before running into problems with the law.
"He wanted to go back to school, go back to playing hockey, he wanted to go back to being himself," his mother said.