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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Hyde inquiry online - Lawyers support precedent-setting webcast into jail death

April 23, 2009
By JEFFREY SIMPSON, Halifax Chronicle Herald

The public inquiry into the case of a mentally ill man who died after collapsing in a Dartmouth jail in 2007 will be broadcast live on the Internet this summer.

Judge Anne Derrick agreed with lawyers Wednesday to a webcast of upcoming sessions of the hearing as it investigates the circumstances surrounding Howard Hyde’s death 30 hours after police shocked him with a Taser.

"It’s an important precedent," Dan Mac-Rury, the inquiry’s counsel, told reporters.

"I believe this is the first fatality inquiry that is going to be broadcasting and I think it’s a positive step forward in the administration of justice."

Mr. Hyde, 45, who suffered from schizophrenia, had been arrested and charged with assault stemming from a domestic dispute in November 2007. His girlfriend, Karen Ellet, said at the time he had stopped taking his medication.

The inquiry will look at whether Mr. Hyde should have been in a hospital psychiatric ward instead of being taken to the police station and then jail.

Kevin MacDonald, the lawyer who represents Mr. Hyde’s sister, said that she supports the decision.

"The public are interested," Mr. MacDonald said.

"The inquiry is going to be held in Halifax. And but for the webcast, it really would be closed off to many members of the public."

The webcast would also benefit Mr. Hyde’s father, who lives in the United States, Mr. MacDonald said.

"He could choose to remain home and watch all of the proceedings," Mr. MacDonald said.

Mr. Hyde’s sister, Joanna Blair, and her husband, Hunter Blair, hope the inquiry will shed some light on what happened to the man.

"They were really strongly in favour of this inquiry at the outset, so they welcome it and they’re hoping the inquiry process will answer some of the questions they have," Mr. MacDonald said.

"There were a number of people who had control of Mr. Hyde and the family wants to know what those people did and why."

Mr. MacDonald wouldn’t comment on the possibility of further legal action, but he’s confident the use of the Taser several times on Mr. Hyde was integral to his death.

"It definitely played a part. What part it played in his ultimate death, I think it’s too early to say. But it was a factor in the chain of events."

After being Tasered, Mr. Hyde was rushed to hospital where he was medically cleared and released back into police custody. He went to court later that day before being jailed for the night.

The province’s chief medical examiner ruled Mr. Hyde’s death was accidental and not from the Taser shock.

Blair Mitchell, a lawyer for the Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia, which is also participating in the inquiry, said the circumstances surrounding Mr. Hyde’s death raise serious questions about how people with mental illnesses are treated when authorities intervene.

"There are a series of reforms or changes that need to be made. And we trust that those recommendations will result from this process."

The inquiry will meet again in June to discuss more procedural issues before further sessions in July, when witnesses will appear.

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