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Friday, July 24, 2009

Senior cop admits he was wrong about Taser policy

July 24, 2009
By Michael MacDonald, THE CANADIAN PRESS

HALIFAX — A senior police officer admitted Friday he was wrong when he told a fatality inquiry that an officer who Tasered a mentally ill man inside the Halifax police station used improper procedure.

Staff Sgt. Sean Auld had said Special Const. Greg McCormick should have issued a verbal warning before he used the high-voltage stun gun on Howard Hyde as he was trying to escape custody on Nov. 21, 2007.

However, Auld was shown slides from a 2007 training session that suggest officers were taught to maintain a “surprise factor” when firing the weapon at non-compliant persons.

Elizabeth Buckle, a lawyer representing Halifax Regional Police, also pointed to another slide that suggested officers refrain from issuing warnings unless there is another officer present with a stun gun.

On Thursday, Auld testified that none of the police department’s training or policies called for employing the element of surprise when using the so-called intermediate weapon.

“I was wrong,” he said Friday.

Auld confirmed that the last time he received training on the weapon was 2004.

Kevin MacDonald, a lawyer for two members of Hyde’s family, said the slides offer no context in terms of what officers were actually trained to do.

“All it says is, ‘tight clothing and surprise factor,”’ MacDonald said outside the hearing room. “It doesn’t explain what is meant by that.”

Hyde, a 45-year-old musician with a long history of mental illness and conflict with police, was Tasered twice, stopped breathing and was quickly revived and taken to hospital.

MacDonald asked Auld several questions about a call he placed to an unnamed nurse at the hospital when Hyde was still receiving treatment there.

Auld said he wanted to find out how Hyde was doing and whether he would be returning to the station for further processing and a court appearance.

MacDonald suggested Auld may have pressured medical staff to release Hyde to ensure the case against him moved forward.

Auld bristled at MacDonald’s suggestion.

“I’m offended by that, actually,” he told the hearing. “I, in no way, put any pressure on that staff member.”

The inquiry has heard that a doctor declared Hyde medically stable about seven hours after the Tasering and later released him into the custody of police so that he could be brought before a judge to face charges.

But Dr. Janet MacIntyre included written instructions on a health transfer form that made it clear police were required to bring Hyde back to the hospital if he was not granted a psychiatric assessment — something the doctor was arranging when she agreed to discharge him.

But Hyde never received the assessment, mainly because police and sheriffs at the court in Dartmouth felt they did not have the authority to follow through on the doctors instructions.

It’s not clear why the judge who saw Hyde that day did not order an assessment, but the inquiry has heard that the practice at the time was not to give the health transfer form to the Crown attorney handling the case — a practice that has since change.

In the end, Hyde was transferred to a jail in Dartmouth, where he died after a struggle with guards.

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