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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Hyde: 'What are you doing?'

July 11, 2009
By JEFFREY SIMPSON, Chronicle Herald

Howard Hyde was being booked at Halifax Regional Police headquarters for hitting his common-law wife when he broke free of three officers, vaulted a desk and ran for an exit, a surveillance video shows.

"I didn’t do nothing," Mr. Hyde shouted as he wrestled with the officers.

The recording from November 2007 (the Tasering occurs at about the 43-minute mark) was played in a Halifax courtroom Friday, as Mr. Hyde’s sister watched, during a fatality inquiry. Mr. Hyde died in police custody 30 hours after the video was shot.

The 45-year-old musician was so strong that police felt they had little choice but to Taser him without warning as they fought to regain control of the situation, one of the officers told the hearing.

"There was no time," Const. Jonathan Edwards said, explaining that the confined area didn’t allow officers to use other measures such as batons or pepper spray.

As a sombre country song, Three Wooden Crosses, droned in the background, the black and white footage showed the booking desk at the police station as Mr. Hyde, just off-screen, apparently started to resist officers.

Const. Edwards said police were about to use a tool resembling a jackknife to cut the drawstring to his boxer shorts — the only clothing Mr. Hyde was wearing when he was arrested early in the morning of Nov. 21, 2007 — in keeping with rules that forbid prisoners from having belts, shoelaces and other such items while locked up.

"He looked a little jumpy," Const. Edwards said before the recording was played. "It didn’t seem like he wanted that to happen."

The only officer initially in the camera frame during that segment leaped off-screen for an instant before crashing back into view with two other officers as they grappled with Mr. Hyde, who throughout the fracas shouted apologies and denied wrongdoing.

One of the officers got a stun gun from a drawer and there was a low staccato crackling sound as he fired it more than once at Mr. Hyde, who shrieked.

"Ow!" Mr. Hyde yelled at one point. "What are you doing?"

Then Mr. Hyde somehow slipped away, jumped over the desk and ran through a door into a hallway leading to a rear exit of the police station. The three officers chased him.

Another camera without audio captured the scene in the hall as the officers wrestled for several more minutes with Mr. Hyde, who was on the floor.

The video shows more police arriving and at some point Mr. Hyde’s heart stopped and he lost consciousness. CPR was used to revive him and then paramedics took him to the hospital.

Const. Edwards rode in the back of the ambulance that day and told the courtroom Friday that Mr. Hyde was flailing his arms around in such an agitated state that the driver stopped to make sure everyone was OK.

The officer said not all the blasts from the Taser worked to their full extent on Mr. Hyde.

"You cannot speak if you’ve been properly Tasered," he said.

Mr. Hyde had been Tasered before but Const. Edwards said he didn’t know that at the time. Still, he said, that knowledge wouldn’t have made him do anything differently.

"I reacted to his behaviour," Const. Edwards said.

"I would have done the same thing in that situation again."

Const. Edwards told the inquiry he doesn’t believe the mentally ill should be added to a list of people who can’t legally be Tasered, a list that includes the elderly and people with disabilities.

Const. Edwards had arrested Mr. Hyde at his Dartmouth apartment that morning after Mr. Hyde’s common-law wife, Karen Ellet, reported that he’d hit her and was schizophrenic. Mr. Hyde had been arrested several times in the past, with many of those incidents related to his mental health.

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

Before the struggle at the booking desk, Mr. Hyde was captured on video talking amicably with police.

"I know you guys are good cops," he said, although he alludes to having problems with some "bad apples."

The recording also shows Mr. Hyde pacing in a holding cell for well over 10 minutes.

"Audio and visually, it’s very disturbing," Mr. Hyde’s sister, Joanna Blair, said after watching the surveillance video in the courtroom.

Dan MacRury, the inquiry counsel, told reporters the video speaks for itself.

"It gives a clear picture of how the police acted on that occasion," he said.

"We’re trying to bring all the evidence forward at this inquiry to give a complete picture of what happened to Howard Hyde."

Mr. MacRury said the inquiry is intended to determine if further policies are needed, not to place blame. But it’s too early to tell if any changes are required, he said.

Mr. Hyde, after being cleared to leave the hospital, was taken to the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Dartmouth, where he spent the night. He lost consciousness the next morning while struggling with correctional officers again and was declared dead in hospital at 8:42 a.m.

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