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Friday, July 10, 2009

Halifax police knew man they stunned was unstable, inquiry hears

July 9, 2009
CBC/The Canadian Press

An inquiry into the case of a man who died in police custody 30 hours after being hit with a Taser heard that Halifax police were told repeatedly that he was mentally unstable, behaving aggressively and had been zapped with a stun gun earlier.

The inquiry looking into the death of Howard Hyde heard 10 minutes of grainy radio communications between several officers who were responding to a domestic abuse call from his common law spouse on Nov. 21, 2007.

The recording indicated his widow told one officer that Hyde suffered from schizophrenia and was acting violently.

Const. Brad Jardine testified Thursday that Karen Ellet told him in a brief conversation at her Dartmouth apartment that Hyde was mentally ill, had hit her and had tried to flee the building before by jumping off the balcony.

Jardine then radioed his colleague, who was pursuing Hyde after he fled the building when he learned police were responding to a complaint he had assaulted Ellet.

"Yes, he's arrestable for assaulting his wife, and he's very mentally unstable, so heads up," Jardine said on the radio after his colleague spotted Hyde walking slowly outside in only his shorts on the cold November night.

The dispatcher's call to officers also indicated that the initial request for help came from a mental health agency that Ellet had called that night — another clue for police that they were dealing with a man who likely had some form of mental disorder.

Lawyers in the fatality inquiry are paying close attention to the flow of information about Hyde and whether officers should have sent the 45-year-old man to hospital for psychiatric treatment instead of to the police station after his arrest.

Testimony has shown that police learned from Ellet's statement that he was schizophrenic, had been off his medications for weeks and had been acting erratically.

But they didn't pass that information on to other officers who were booking Hyde at headquarters, where he struggled with police as they tried to remove his shorts with the help of a tool that had a serrated blade.

Police then Tasered him twice, briefly stopping his heart and rendering him unconscious.

Almost an hour passed between the time Ellet finished her statement and when Hyde was zapped with the stun gun.

When asked why he didn't tell colleagues Hyde was schizophrenic, Jardine said he didn't think he was having a mental health episode at the time because he was calm during the arrest.

He also said he didn't think it necessary to take him to the hospital immediately, though he admitted he had that option.

Const. Gyles Gillis, who was working with Jardine that night, testified he couldn't remember hearing his partner's radio communication referring to Hyde's mental stability as he raced out of the apartment building to apprehend Hyde.

"When you went down to that parking lot, you knew just one thing — that this fellow was mentally unstable. Do you agree?" Kevin MacDonald, a lawyer for Hyde's family, said in court.

"No, I do not," Gillis said.

Jardine also testified he was called to the hospital where Hyde was being treated following the initial Taser jolts.

He said Hyde seemed lucid as they chatted about music and sports but that his heart rate spiked to what he thought were unusual levels even as he slept.

Jardine said he was so concerned he asked medical staff, who assured him Hyde was alright. He later said he was surprised that Hyde had been medically cleared to leave hospital to face charges related to the scuffle at police headquarters.

Jardine said he was upset when he learned Hyde had died, explaining he had told the musician before leaving at the end of his shift that "everything would be OK."

The inquiry has also focused on the amount of training police receive on dealing with people with mental health issues.

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