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Monday, July 20, 2009

N.S. inquiry told man showed 'incredible' strength before Tasering

July 20, 2009
Michael Tutton, Canadian Press

HALIFAX, N.S. - A Halifax police officer who helped wrestle a mentally ill man to the ground seconds before he was Tasered says the man had "incredible" strength and couldn't be forced onto his stomach using usual restraint methods.

Howard Hyde, 45, a Dartmouth, N.S., resident with a 20-year history of schizophrenia, died 30 hours later at a provincial jail.

Const. Ben Mitchell, one of the officers involved in restraining Hyde at police headquarters on Nov. 21, 2007, testified Monday at the fatality inquiry into Hyde's death.

The inquiry, which is examining the roles that police, health officials and corrections officers played, has been examining video of Hyde's restraint and Tasering, and asking police officers about their recollections.

The surveillance video played Monday showed Mitchell sitting at a booking desk in the downtown police station when he hears voices rising in the nearby fingerprint room.

The footage shows Mitchell looking for gloves. Suddenly, Hyde can be seen pushing past two other officers into the booking room.

Mitchell helps bring Hyde to the floor, then uses his knee to try to roll him onto his back as another officer, Const. Jonathan Edwards, also holds Hyde down.

Asked about the strength Hyde showed during the struggle, Mitchell responded: "It was incredible."

"Based on my experience, myself and Const. Edwards should have had no problem in restraining him."

At the time, Hyde wasn't wearing any clothes aside from a pair of shorts and Mitchell said there "was nothing to grab hold of."

"You can usually grab hold of a shirt, grab a coat. It's an easy way to get a hold of people. On top of that, he was also sweating profusely," said Mitchell.

Within seconds, the two officers move aside as a third officer, Special Const. Greg McCormick, fires a Taser into Hyde.

On the night he was Tasered, Hyde had been arrested for an alleged assault of his common-law wife, Karen Ellet. The inquiry has heard that Ellet had told police that Hyde was mentally ill and had not been taking his medications for weeks.

Hyde's escape attempt started after McCormick told him he had to use a serrated cutting tool to remove the string that was holding up his shorts - for his own safety.

Hyde was Tasered at least twice during the ensuing struggle, once in the booking room and again in a nearby hallway. Hyde died 30 hours later during a subsequent clash with correctional officers at the jail in nearby Dartmouth.

Kevin MacDonald, a lawyer representing two of Hyde's family members, questioned Mitchell's testimony, suggesting the officer's description of Hyde's strength was "just an easy way for you to justify the use of that Taser."

He asked Mitchell about why the initial Tasering was necessary, given that the officer had succeeded in keeping Hyde on the floor and had his full weight on him for several seconds.

Mitchell replied that he didn't feel he was successful in forcing the man to comply.

"We could not get control of him," he said. "We couldn't get him over on his side. We couldn't get his arms behind his back."

Later in the day, the officer read from a report he'd prepared after the struggle in which he described Hyde as seeming "to have the strength of 10 men."

The dramatic surveillance videotape shows Hyde struggling on the floor and shouting, "No! and "Sorry! and "What are you doing? "

MacDonald asked the officer why he didn't attempt to persuade the struggling man to regain his composure, and Mitchell said he was simply "busy" trying to get Hyde onto his stomach.

Mitchell wrote in his report after the incident that he had asked Hyde to give him his hands.

However, after viewing the video on Monday, Mitchell acknowledged he didn't ask Hyde to surrender his hands for handcuffing.

MacDonald suggested the officer had put the statement in his report to "justify the use of the Taser."

But Mitchell responded, "That's wrong." He said he simply hadn't recalled everything correctly before he saw the video.

The inquiry has heard that Hyde later fell unconscious in the hallway of the police station and had to be revived using CPR. He was later taken to hospital and discharged with a form that said he should get a forensic psychiatric examination.

That never happened.

Const. Michael Carter, the officer who applied CPR and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, testified he accompanied Hyde to the hospital after he revived Hyde in the police station.

He recalled that Hyde was incoherent while he was with him at the hospital.

The officer said he was angry and distraught when he learned Hyde had been sent to a provincial jail and that he died there.

"I felt he was suffering from a medical crisis. His heart had stopped. I felt he should have been in hospital, but I'm not a doctor," he said.

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