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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Officer changes story over copying report and giving man Taser warning

Has anyone checked to see if this officer has perhaps gone off his meds? The way his story keeps changing makes me think perhaps HE's the mental-health patient. And imagine this: Constable Edwards is being subdued by lawyers whose only weapons are words and good old-fashioned common sense. I find it unbearably sad that Howard wasn't offered those alternatives.

July 14, 2009
By Alison Auld, The Canadian Press

HALIFAX, N.S. — A Halifax police officer said Tuesday he copied parts of a report on a Tasering incident from another officer involved in the melee, which is at the centre of a inquiry into the death of a mentally ill man.

Const. Jonathan Edwards conceded after days of questioning at the inquiry that he had taken portions of a supplemental report prepared by Special Const. Greg McCormick, who was also at Halifax police headquarters when Howard Hyde was brought in for booking.

Edwards testified a day earlier that he had not read his colleague's account of what happened on Nov. 21, 2007, the night the 45-year-old schizophrenic was repeatedly Tasered by police at the station.

But under questioning by police lawyer Sandra MacPherson Duncan, Edwards said he did lift passages from the internal report.

"It appears you may have borrowed a couple of sentences from Const. McCormick," MacPherson said to Edwards at the fatality inquiry.

"Yes," he concurred.

The report recounts some of the events from the night Hyde was arrested for allegedly assaulting his spouse. It was one of three accounts Edwards made that night, including his police notes.

Outside the court, MacPherson Duncan downplayed the significance of his testimony, saying the evening was stressful and no one can be expected to be flawless.

"You cannot hold anybody to a level of perfection that would require instant recollection," she said.

She added that no one had ever told Edwards not to collaborate on the report and that there were no discrepancies in the internal report and his personal police notes.

But Kevin MacDonald, a lawyer for Hyde's family, said the change in testimony raises questions about the officer's independent account of what happened.

"It did surprise me," he said outside the court. "It just calls into question his independent recollection of events."

Edwards spent the day reviewing surveillance footage that captured Hyde being Tasered. He died 30 hours later after a struggle with guards at a correctional facility in Dartmouth.

Edwards also conceded that he didn't know why he told the RCMP Hyde was warned twice that he was about to be Tasered at police headquarters. He said the surveillance video from the station appears to indicate no such warnings were given as Hyde fell to the ground in a struggle with several officers.

In a statement to the RCMP on Nov. 25, 2007, Edwards said a booking officer warned Hyde that a Taser was going to be used on him unless he co-operated with police.

Edwards said he can't explain why he would have told the RCMP a warning was given because he had watched the video before making his statement to the Mounties.

"That (Taser warning) didn't occur," he said. "At the time I must have thought that's what was said, but I don't recall seeing that in the video."

MacDonald suggested Edwards made the statement because he was trying to justify the use of the Taser on Hyde.

"If Mr. Hyde wasn't complying with the Taser demand ... that would justify the use of force," he said.

MacPherson Duncan disagreed.

"I'm having a problem with propositions being put without foundation, because the propositions are scandalous," she said.

"The problem I have is there is no suggestion in any of this that this officer was required to justify the use of force to the RCMP."

MacPherson Duncan said the statement taken by the RCMP was intended to assist the coroner and wasn't taken to investigate the behaviour of the officers involved in Hyde's arrest.

The stun gun was used as several officers struggled with Hyde in the booking area of police headquarters. Edwards has testified that the short, heavy-set man was enough of a threat to at least three young officers that they had to deploy the powerful weapon.

The inquiry has also heard audio from a room where officers were fingerprinting Hyde. The officers allegedly came at him with a utility tool that had a 10-centimetre curved, serrated blade, to remove a string from his shorts.

Edwards has testified that the blade wasn't drawn, but someone can be heard in the audio shouting what sounds to be an obscenity-laced threat.

Seconds later, the officers and Hyde tumble into the booking area, where Edwards asks if McCormick has a Taser just as the latter is reaching for one in a desk drawer.

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