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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

N.S. police officer didn't tell others that Tasered man was mentally ill, off meds

July 7, 2009
By Alison Auld, The Canadian Press

HALIFAX, N.S. — A Halifax police officer didn't tell colleagues that a man who had just been arrested was schizophrenic, had been off his medications for weeks and had been acting violently, a fatality inquiry heard Tuesday.

Const. Giles Gillis, who was responding to a domestic assault call, testified at the hearing into the death of Howard Hyde that the man's common-law spouse told him he suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and had assaulted her.

He was also informed that Hyde, a 45-year-old musician with a 20-year history of mental illness, had stopped taking three types of anti-anxiety and psychosis medications and was delusional.

Still, Gillis admitted not conveying the critical information to other police officers who took Hyde to a lockup in Halifax on Nov. 21, 2007, where he was repeatedly Tasered after struggling in the cells.

When asked by lead counsel Dan MacRury why he didn't tell the officers about Hyde's condition, Gillis replied: "I don't know."

"Why didn't you radio the police station after getting the statement?" MacRury asked at another point in the testimony.

"Were you not bothered by the fact that you knew he was schizophrenic and off his medications and he had been Tasered?"

Gillis said he believed he was following proper procedure and that Hyde was in the most appropriate place since a judge would decide later in the day if he should undergo a psychiatric evaluation.

The probe is trying to determine what happened to Hyde after he was arrested and then died in a correctional facility 30 hours after being Tasered. It will determine whether Hyde received adequate care from police, correctional officers and health officials.

Karen Ellet, Hyde's spouse and the hearing's first witness, testified that she told officers her violent, incoherent husband was mentally ill and needed medical help the night he hit her with a telephone.

But the Nova Scotia woman said he did not get the help he so badly needed.

The soft-spoken woman said she called a help line for those facing mental health emergencies 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."

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. It was a cold night and he was dressed only in a pair of shorts and had no shoes.

Ellet told the officers 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."

Gillis also said he did a background check on Hyde when he returned to his office, but could find nothing on the man despite a lengthy history that included 11 criminal charges and several involving mental health issues.

Gillis, who claimed to have trouble recalling several details from the incident, also said he couldn't remember whether Hyde was warned before he was struck with the powerful stun gun.

MacRury questioned why Gillis didn't have him sent to a hospital for an immediate psychiatric evaluation rather than into police custody.

Gillis said he didn't think Hyde was exhibiting signs of mental illness, even though he was babbling incoherently when he was apprehended.

After being Tasered twice and rendered unconscious, Hyde 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, 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.

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 an incredible man."

The provincial medical examiner concluded Hyde died of excited delirium due to paranoid schizophrenia.

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