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Friday, July 10, 2009

Hyde’s mental health had cop radios buzzing

July 10, 2009
By JEFFREY SIMPSON, Chronicle Herald
Halifax police officers were told before arresting a man who died 30 hours after being Tasered that he was mentally unstable and acting aggressively.

On Thursday, an inquiry into the death of Howard Hyde heard 12 minutes of radio communications between dispatchers and officers responding to a domestic dispute call from the man’s common-law wife on Nov. 21, 2007.

The recording indicates that Karen Ellet told Const. Brad Jardine at her apartment that Hyde was schizophrenic and had hit her before fleeing from the fourth-floor balcony.

"He’s arrestable for assaulting his wife and he’s very mentally unstable, so heads up," the Halifax Regional Police officer said on his police radio after another officer spotted Mr. Hyde outside a few minutes later wearing only boxer shorts.

The dispatcher also told police that the call for help had come from the mobile crisis unit, which Ms. Ellet had contacted initially that night to get mental health help for Mr. Hyde.

"There’s a male in the background being very aggressive with her," the dispatcher told the officers.

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

Ms. Ellet explained to Const. Jardine after Mr. Hyde was arrested that her common-law husband hadn’t been taking his medication regularly and that he was afraid of being Tasered again by police. But Const. Jardine didn’t pass that information along to the officer taking the 45-year-old musician to the police station for booking.

Const. Jardine said after police arrested Mr. Hyde, his demeanour had calmed significantly from when they heard him yelling inside the apartment before he fled, so he didn’t believe the man was having a mental health episode.

"There was no speaking in tongues or any irrational thought process," Const. Jardine said, adding later in the day that, "I expected a much different person downstairs."

So police decided to take Mr. Hyde to the station for booking instead of the hospital for a doctor’s assessment.

Mr. Hyde tried to escape at the station after officers approached him with a knife-like instrument to cut the drawstring from his shorts and he was Tasered twice.

The jolts stopped his heart and he was revived by CPR before being taken to the hospital. The inquiry, which is being webcast on the Internet, is expected to be able to view as early as today the scuffle recorded by surveillance cameras at the station.

After being called to the hospital, Const. Jardine noticed that Mr. Hyde’s heart rate at one point spiked to 200 — way above normal — as he rested in bed, but a nurse assured him things were fine. Mr. Hyde was chatting coherently with the officer before going to sleep.

But Const. Jardine said he was surprised to learn Mr. Hyde was later cleared to leave the hospital, despite his heart issues.

"He was where he was supposed to be, in my mind," he said.

Mr. Hyde 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 and was declared dead in hospital at 8:42 a.m.

"I was really upset," Const. Jardine said. "I told him everything would be OK when I left the hospital."

Const. Jardine couldn’t recall any mental health training he received while attending police academy or a four-week orientation course he took after being hired, but he said he has had a lot of experience dealing with people with such issues.

Still, police are overworked due to a lack of resources, he said. "We have to do the best with what we have."

Const. Jardine’s partner, Const. Gyles Gillis, said he didn’t recall hearing the "significant information" about Mr. Hyde’s mental state on the police radio at the apartment building.

"It wouldn’t have changed the way we handled the call," Const. Gillis said.

Kevin MacDonald, a lawyer representing Mr. Hyde’s sister and her husband at the inquiry, said any officer who had contact with Mr. Hyde had the option of taking him for a psychological assessment by a doctor who could have hospitalized the man.

"He should have received treatment and that’s one of the questions we want addressed," Mr. MacDonald said outside the courtroom where the hearing is being held.

"A mistake was made."

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