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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Officer denies he doctored his report in tasering death

July 14, 2009
Oliver Moore, Globe and Mail

A police officer involved in the tasering of paranoid schizophrenic Howard Hyde could not explain why so much of his report was essentially identical to one written earlier by a colleague, but denied the suggestion he had "doctored" it.

The inquiry into the jailhouse death of Mr. Hyde also heard yesterday an allegation the unco-operative prisoner was sworn at during a rapidly escalating situation at police headquarters and told he would be "doing the ... dance next."

An altercation broke out immediately after and Mr. Hyde, who had been off his medication and acting erratically before his arrest, was tasered repeatedly. He died 30 hours later in a Dartmouth jail.

The inquiry into the November, 2007, death began hearing witnesses last week. Halifax Regional Police Constable Jonathan Edwards, the arresting officer, was on the stand all day yesterday.

Constable Edwards was one of many officers involved in the struggle that broke out during the booking. The fracas ended with the 45-year-old prisoner not breathing and having to be revived in a hallway. After he had accompanied Mr. Hyde to hospital, Constable Edwards returned to the police station to write up the incident.

A lawyer for Mr. Hyde's sister and her husband questioned the officer again and again yesterday about numerous similarities between his account and one drafted an hour earlier by Special Constable Gregory McCormick, the man who actually used the taser on Mr. Hyde.

"I am going to suggest today that you went in and used and doctored Special Constable McCormick's statement to create your own," Kevin MacDonald said. "These are identical words, they're his words ... you used his words."

Constable Edwards repeatedly denied having cribbed his colleague's report.

The inquiry also walked through the lead-up to the tasering, with Constable Edwards offering new details on the alleged risk posed by Mr. Hyde.

He testified that the booking room struggle brought the prisoner within reach of a drawer full of knives and other weapons. The drawer was unlocked and the one immediately above it was missing, he said, allowing a clear view of these weapons.

The prisoner received his first tasering seconds later.

Constable Edwards acknowledged that his notes or other paperwork do not include mention of concern over Mr. Hyde arming himself during the struggle. The officer explained the late revelation by saying he had a lot on his mind in the aftermath of the incident.

It was not clear why weapons were stored in an accessible drawer, though Constable Edwards said that is no longer the practice.

Also heard for the first time was his allegation that Mr. Hyde had earlier tried to reach for a cutting tool held by another officer, who intended to sever the drawstring of the prisoner's shorts.

That was not recorded by surveillance cameras, but some audio around the alleged incident was captured. It was then, during the rapidly building tension, Mr. MacDonald suggested, that one of the officers told Mr. Hyde he would be made to "dance."

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