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Friday, July 17, 2009

Cop denies threatening Hyde before Taser used

July 17, 2009
By JEFFREY SIMPSON, Chronicle Herald

A police officer has denied threatening Howard Hyde shortly before Tasering the mentally ill man during a scuffle two years ago.

Special Const. Greg McCormick of Halifax Regional Police suggested Thursday it was actually Mr. Hyde who uttered a menacing remark captured by a surveillance camera while he was being booked for hitting his common-law wife on Nov. 21, 2007.

"It’s not me," Special Const. McCormick said of an enhanced audio recording played as he testified for the first time at an inquiry into Mr. Hyde’s death 30 hours after the Tasering.

Dan MacRury, the inquiry’s counsel, had questioned the officer about a comment made by someone just out of the camera’s view.

"Can you hear, ‘You’re going to be doing the effing dance next?’ " Mr. MacRury asked, substituting out the expletive.

"Who said that?"

Special Const. McCormick ruled out his own voice, adding "I’d have to say Mr. Hyde."

Mr. MacRury pointed out that remark hadn’t been noted in any official reports or other paperwork about the incident.

"Nowhere in documents do you say Mr. Hyde was swearing at you," Mr. MacRury said.

Special Const. McCormick said he hadn’t remembered hearing it.

"It certainly wasn’t something that stuck out in my mind," he said.

The officer said he didn’t consider it a direct threat to himself, but acknowledged it was threatening.

Joanna Blair, Mr. Hyde’s sister, said outside the Halifax courtroom where the hearing is being held that the threatening words didn’t sound like they came from her brother.

"What I heard in that line with the ‘effing’ and ‘dancing’ remark in my opinion was not my brother’s voice," she said.

"I’m sure because I would have recognized my brother’s voice."

At the time the scuffle broke out, Special Const. McCormick had just taken out a tool with a closed 10-centimetre serrated blade to remove the drawstring from Mr. Hyde’s shorts.

A barely distinguishable comment on the audio recording — that Kevin MacDonald, a lawyer representing Mr. Hyde’s sister, interpreted as, "We’re just going to cut one of those balls off" — apparently refers to a knot at the end of the drawstring.

Mr. Hyde became agitated at that point as Special Const. McCormick and two of his colleagues — all of whom are over six feet tall and weigh more than 200 pounds — struggled to subdue him. The struggle ended in a nearby hallway, where Mr. Hyde’s heart stopped before police revived him with CPR.

Special Const. McCormick acknowledged that he wrote his supplemental report about the fracas before writing his notes, which he characterized as a summary of his official document.

Mr. MacDonald pointed out people usually jot down their notes beforehand and refer to them later for the official report.

"You seem to have it in reverse," Mr. MacDonald said.

Special Const. McCormick said he hadn’t been trained about note-taking but believed the information he wrote that night was extensive compared with some of his other accounts.

"As far as my notebook goes, I’m not sure what goes there," he said, and at another point, "It’s not something that I really know what I should be doing."

Mr. MacDonald asked Special Const. McCormick on Thursday whether he also made another barely distinguishable comment on the recording when the 45-year-old musician arrived at the police station and was talking to the officers.

"I hear ‘Shut up,’ " Mr. MacDonald said.

"Did you say that?"

Special McCormick replied that he certainly didn’t.

He said he and his two colleagues had little choice other than to use a stun gun on Mr. Hyde as they wrestled with him on the floor of the booking room, within reach of a drawer of weapons that included a butcher knife and screwdriver.

The officer shot the stun gun a first time at Mr. Hyde, but it had little effect, he said.

"I put it right between his shoulder blades," he said.

The electric current is supposed to lock up a person’s muscles, but Mr. Hyde was flailing about so much he managed to stand up and somehow redirect the weapon back on Special Const. McCormick.

"I certainly felt the shock," he said. "If you watch the video I move back quickly."

After Mr. Hyde jumps over a desk and fled to a nearby hallway, Special Const. McCormick used the stun gun on him again.

The officer said he felt responsible when he heard the next day Mr. Hyde had died. The event troubled him so much he went for counselling, he said.

"All you could think from the media was that the Taser had killed him," he said.

The fatality inquiry is examining how police and correctional officers handle mentally ill people and is trying to determine what happened to Mr. Hyde.

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