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Sunday, July 19, 2009

Not warning of taser use part of training, officer says

July 18, 2009
OLIVER MOORE, Globe and Mail

Howard Hyde was tasered without warning because it was supposed to be a surprise, the officer who zapped him told an inquiry into the mentally ill man's jailhouse death.

Special Constable Gregory McCormick testified yesterday he used a slang term to alert officers grappling with Mr. Hyde in the booking room of Halifax Regional Police headquarters that he was about to use a taser.

But he deliberately did not tell the prisoner. The officer attributed this decision to training in the spring of 2007, six months before the incident, that included new instructions on tasering without warning.

"It's used for something that we call the surprise factor; telling him specifically that it was going to be done would defeat what I was trying to do," Special Constable McCormick testified.

Kevin MacDonald, the lawyer representing Mr. Hyde's sister and her husband, told reporters during a break in the proceedings that this tactic is not covered by the police force's taser policy.

"There's no mention of surprise at all. In fact, it mentions warning, where it's feasible," he told reporters. "I'm very interested in the training aspect of that, [that] you wouldn't want to warn someone to eliminate the notion of the surprise. I'm troubled by that."

The police officers involved in the altercation have testified they did not know their prisoner was a paranoid schizophrenic who had gone off his medication. They also say they were unaware Mr. Hyde claimed to have been tasered before and was afraid of police.

Several officers have recounted that Mr. Hyde was reasonably calm and co-operative until police moved to cut the knotted drawstring on his shorts.

The audio recording from a surveillance camera aimed away from the area indicates a rapidly escalating situation. Special Constable McCormick is heard saying something that sounds like, "We're just going to cut one of those balls off," which he explained yesterday was a reference to the knotted string.

"You have to consider Mr. Hyde's state of mind at the time," Mr. MacDonald told reporters later. "He hadn't slept in days, he was unmedicated. Who knows how that kind of a remark would impact him."

Spiking tension is evident on the audio recording. Voices rise and someone - the officers present have denied under oath it was them - says, "You're going to be doing the fucking dance next."

Seconds later, Mr. Hyde apparently tried to make a run for it. He was tasered repeatedly during a struggle that spilled from the booking room into a nearby hallway. He stopped breathing and had to be revived by police.

The 45-year-old musician died the next day in a Dartmouth jail.

Mr. MacDonald asked Special Constable McCormick why he had not done more to defuse the situation.

"It was already at the point where de-escalation verbally wasn't going to work," he replied. "Once you're in a situation like that ... you can't stop struggling with someone and hope that they'll stop as well."

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