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Friday, July 24, 2009

No pressure to release Taser-struck man, inquiry told

July 24, 2009
The Canadian Press/CBC News

A senior Halifax police officer has denied pressuring hospital staff to release a mentally ill man who had been shocked with a Taser at least twice while in police custody and died the next morning while struggling with jail guards.

Staff Sgt. Sean Auld, testifying Friday at an inquiry into the November 2007 death of Howard Hyde, was on the scene minutes after Hyde collapsed and stopped breathing after he was hit with the stun gun while trying to escape the Halifax police station.

Hyde, a 45-year-old musician with a long history of mental illness and conflict with police, was revived by an officer using CPR and taken to hospital for treatment.

Kevin MacDonald, a lawyer for two members of Hyde's family, asked Auld why he subsequently placed a call to an unnamed nurse at the hospital.

Auld said he wanted to find out how Hyde was doing and whether he would be returning to the station for further processing and a court appearance to deal with charges stemming from his violent struggle with three officers.

MacDonald suggested Auld pressured medical staff to release Hyde to ensure the case against him moved forward.

Auld bristled at the inference. "I'm offended by that, actually," he told the hearing. "I, in no way, put any pressure on that staff member."

The inquiry has heard that a doctor declared Hyde medically stable about seven hours after the jolt with a Taser and released him into the custody of police so that he could be brought before a judge.

But Dr. Janet MacIntyre included written instructions on a health transfer form that made it clear police were required to bring Hyde back to the hospital unless he was given a psychiatric assessment — something the doctor was arranging when she agreed to discharge him.

Hyde never received the assessment, mainly because police and sheriffs at the court in Dartmouth felt they did not have the authority to follow through on the doctor's instructions.

MacIntyre has yet to testify at the inquiry.

It's not clear why the judge who saw Hyde that day did not order an assessment, but the inquiry has heard that the practice at the time was not to give the health transfer form to the Crown attorney handling the case — a practice that has since changed.

In the end, Hyde was transferred to a jail in Dartmouth, where he died in a scuffle with correctional officers. The cause of death was listed as excited delirium resulting from paranoid schizophrenia.

In earlier testimony, Auld admitted he was wrong when he told the inquiry that the officer who used the Taser on Hyde had used improper procedure.

Auld had said Special Const. Greg McCormick should have issued a verbal warning before he used the high-voltage stun gun on Hyde, who had been arrested after his common-law wife accused him of assault.

However, Auld was shown slides from a 2007 training session that suggest officers were taught to maintain a "surprise factor" when firing the weapon at non-compliant persons.

Elizabeth Buckle, a lawyer representing Halifax Regional Police, also pointed to another slide that suggested officers refrain from issuing warnings unless there is another officer present with a stun gun.

On Thursday, Auld testified that none of the police department's training or policies called for employing the element of surprise when using the so-called intermediate weapon.

"I was wrong," the 20-year veteran of the force said Friday.

Auld confirmed that the last time he received training on the weapon was 2004.

MacDonald said the slides offer no context in terms of what officers were actually trained to do.

"All it says is, 'tight clothing and surprise factor,'" MacDonald said outside the hearing room. "It doesn't explain what is meant by that."

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