July 7, 2009
By THE CANADIAN PRESS
HALIFAX, N.S. — Karen Ellet says she told two police officers her violent, incoherent common-law husband was mentally ill and needed medical help the night he hit her with a telephone.
But the Nova Scotia woman told a public inquiry Tuesday into Howard Hyde's death that the 45-year-old musician, who died a day after he was Tasered while in police custody, did not get the help he so badly needed.
Ellet was the first witness to testify at the inquiry, which will determine whether Hyde received adequate care from police, correctional officers and health officials.
The soft-spoken woman said she called a help line for those facing mental health emergencies on the night of Nov. 21, 2007, when Hyde became very aggressive, at one point holding her wrists and striking her on the side of her face with a telephone.
"I realized he needed some medical help," she told the inquiry in a quiet but steady voice. "He was pacing back and forth and hollering. He was incoherent ... I couldn't make out what he was saying."
The court heard a recording of the 911 call Ellet made later that night, during which she told the operator in a hushed tone that Hyde was "going to become violent."
Dan MacRury, lead counsel for the inquiry, asked Ellet why she was speaking in such a low voice to the operator.
"I didn't want Howard to hear me on the phone because he would get more aggressive," she told the inquiry, led by provincial court Judge Anne Derrick.
When police arrived at the couple's home in Dartmouth, Hyde had fled their apartment by climbing over the balcony and down the side of the four-storey building on a cold night, dressed only in a pair of shorts and no shoes.
Ellet said she told the two officers that Hyde had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, had not taken his medication for weeks and needed medical help.
As well, she told them that Hyde was terrified of being Tasered because he had been hit with an electric jolt from a stun gun during an earlier confrontation with police.
She said she later learned that Hyde had been arrested, but when she called the correctional centre to let them know he was ill, she was told staff couldn't help because of concerns over confidentiality.
"I really wanted him to be in the hospital and get the proper medical treatment that he needed for his psychosis."
Hyde, whose long history of mental illness was known to police, was Tasered twice when he made two attempts to escape from the police station that night.
Rendered unconscious, he was revived by CPR and taken to hospital. Later that morning, he was taken to the Dartmouth jail, where he spent the night.
The next morning, 30 hours after he was Tasered, he fell unconscious again after struggling with correctional officers trying to restrain him in a holding cell. He was declared dead in hospital at 8:42 a.m.
During her testimony, Ellet also confirmed that Hyde had hit her on the head with closed fists only two weeks earlier when he became irate in a nearby parking lot about her refusal to get a ride home by hitchhiking. She said she did tell police about the incident.
As well, Ellet said she had earlier approached Hyde's doctor about his worsening condition, but could only talk to the physician's secretary. Nothing came of that meeting, she said.
At the time, Hyde was taking two medications to treat his schizophrenia and high anxiety. Ellet said he was sometimes delusional, believing he was related to royalty.
"He was very psychotic," she said.
When Hyde was taking his medication, he was a warm man with a passion for music and sports, Ellet said.
"He was a very fantastic person," she said. "He was very caring of people. ... He was just and incredible man."
At the conclusion of her testimony, MacRury asked Ellet is she though Hyde received the "professional help" he needed.
Ellet said she believes Hyde should have been stabilized and transferred to a psychiatric hospital that night. Instead, he was sent to the Halifax police station and to the jail in Dartmouth.
"He needed psychiatric treatment," she said.
The provincial medical examiner concluded Hyde died of excited delirium due to paranoid schizophrenia.
WELCOME to TRUTH ... not TASERS
Tuesday, July 07, 2009
July 7, 2009