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Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Treatment of mentally ill also part of Hyde story

July 8, 2009

THE TRAGIC death of Howard Hyde is one more event that has brought public attention to police officers’ use of stun guns, but the death of the mentally ill Dartmouth man while in custody in 2007 is about much more than that.

A public inquiry into Hyde’s death began this week in Halifax and is expected to hear from as many as 100 witnesses. It was preceded by debate over whether to allow security camera footage of Hyde, while in the custody of Halifax Regional Police and in a confrontation with guards at the provincial jail in Dartmouth, to be posted on the Internet.

Inquiry chairwoman Judge Anne Derrick has ruled that the video footage, which reportedly shows police Tasering Hyde and his subsequent death the next day, will not be made available for Internet posting, but the footage will be shown as part of evidence being submitted at the inquiry, which is available by live and archived webcast.

Earlier this year, the RCMP announced new restrictions on the use of Tasers, primarily in response to the high-profile death of Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver’s airport in October 2007. The Polish man, who did not speak English and had spent hours alone wandering the arrivals terminal, died at the airport after he became disruptive and the RCMP shocked him multiple times with a Taser.

Hyde’s death occurred the next month. Thirty hours after regional police Tasered him, Hyde died during a struggle with guards at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility. The medical examiner later ruled that his death was caused by excited delirium due to paranoid schizophrenia, from which he had suffered for some time.

A subsequent review said correctional officers had followed proper procedures, but a public outcry over Hyde’s treatment in custody led to the public inquiry — as it well should have.

While the use of the stun gun to subdue Hyde is part of this story, the justice system’s treatment of people with mental illnesses is just as significant an issue.

Hyde’s widow, during a long day of testimony on Tuesday, told the inquiry that she had told police that Hyde suffered from schizophrenia and needed mental health treatment.

After he was taken into custody following Karen Ellet’s 911 call from their Dartmouth apartment, she said she contacted the correctional centre to indicate he needed medical help but was told staff could not help because of confidentiality rules.

Much of Ellet’s testimony on Tuesday dealt with Hyde’s condition on the night of Nov. 21, 2007, her own interactions with police and other agencies leading up to and including that evening, and some discussion about his mental illness. He had stopped taking his medication in the weeks before that fateful evening.

But in perhaps the most touching testimony she gave, Ellet also talked about Hyde when he was well, during their good times together. She spoke of a happy, lively man with whom she shared a peaceful, simple life.

Asked if he had discussed his mental illness in detail with her, Ellet responded, "No, he didn’t. I didn’t really ask because I knew him when he was well, initially. I didn’t see the schizophrenic side of him until he was off his medications."

She said he loved sports, music and nature. They enjoyed walks on the beach and along country roads, she said, adding that Hyde much preferred the country to the city.

"He was a joy to be around," she said. "He was a very likable man."

There will be much important testimony in the weeks ahead and it will surely help Derrick to chart a path toward recommendations that will lead to better treatment for the mentally ill when they are taken into custody.

But Tuesday’s testimony was among the most important because it served as a reminder that Hyde — when well — was a happy, contented and peaceful man. In a province where the story of mental health patients being woefully underserved is growing frustratingly repetitive, Hyde’s story will hopefully bring better results for those who follow him.

At this point, that’s as much as we can offer the late Howard Hyde.

1 comment:

Critical Mass said...

It appears that the RCMP ignored a doctor's order to take Mr. Hyde to a medical facility.

I wonder if the RCMP will survive these horrendous Taser Murders?

Mr. Hyde would most likely be alive, had the RCMP followed the doctor's order. Instead they took him to jail and killed him.

Sad. Preventable. Another RCMP Homicide.