Police believe a rare inmate death Monday morning at the Burnside Correctional Facility is a case of murder.

The prisoner, unidentified but in his 20s, was found dead in his cell at 6:12 a.m. Halifax Regional Police say the death is suspicious and are investigating it as a homicide.

A Justice Department spokeswoman said deaths in provincial custody are very unusual.


“It’s extremely rare. An in-custody death, we’ve only had three in Nova Scotia in I believe the past 15 years,” said spokeswoman Sherri Aikenhead.

The last prisoner to die in provincial custody was Howard Hyde in the fall of 2007. That death created controversy because Hyde, a paranoid schizophrenic, died hours after being Tasered by police.

Nova Scotia’s chief medical examiner later determined Hyde died not from the Taser, but from excited delirium brought on by artery disease, obesity and physical restraint.

Another prisoner died of natural causes in 2006, but the last death before that was in the early 1990s.

Halifax Regional Police are taking charge of the investigation of Monday’s death. The justice department will be doing an internal investigation as well.

This comes just one day after another man died in the custody of the RCMP. Ryan Allen McKay, 28, of Waverley, was arrested Saturday night by Enfield RCMP for breaching a court order. The man was co-operative and arrested without incident.

But at 3:50 a.m. Sunday, police found him in a cell by himself and unresponsive. Staff could not revive him. There were no outward signs of distress or suicide, but nothing has been ruled out, police say. An autopsy was done Sunday but the results may not be available for some time.

The RCMP major crime unit and Halifax Regional Police are investigating.