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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

System failed mentally ill man hit by Taser, N.S. doctor tells fatality inquiry

August 11, 2009
By Michael Macdonald, Canadian Press

HALIFAX, N.S. — The first doctor to see Howard Hyde after he had been Tasered up to five times during a struggle with Halifax police told a fatality inquiry Tuesday he believes the system failed the mentally ill man.

Dr. Stephen Curry, an emergency room doctor at the QE2 Health Sciences Centre, said he became upset when he learned Hyde had died during a struggle with jail guards about 30 hours after he was discharged from the hospital on Nov. 21, 2007.

During his testimony, he was asked if he agreed that the system had failed Hyde because he did not get the psychiatric care he needed after he left the hospital.

"Yes," said Curry. "Yes, I do."

The inquiry has heard that Hyde, a 45-year-old musician with a long history of schizophrenia and conflict with the law, was off his medication when his common-law wife complained to police that he had assaulted her.

Hyde was arrested and taken to the police station, where he tried to flee when an officer tried to cut the knot on a string holding up his shorts, telling Hyde he had to "cut off one of those balls off there."

During the ensuing struggle, Hyde was hit with the stun gun a number of times and police restrained him by placing the overweight man on his stomach, cuffing his hands behind his back and pushing his lower legs toward his back.

One officer testified that he placed his foot on Hyde's back and didn't remove it until another officer said the man had stopped breathing and required CPR to be revived.

Curry said Hyde had an elevated heart rate and was incoherent when he arrived at the emergency room just before 3 a.m.

"He wasn't making any sense," he told the hearing.

The doctor told the inquiry Hyde's heart appeared to be in good shape and he seemed to be recovering quickly from his ordeal at the station.

The doctor also said he gave Hyde an anti-psychotic drug to calm him down and keep him safe and comfortable.

Curry testified he was reluctant to commit Hyde to a longer hospital stay under the Involuntary Psychiatric Treatment Act because he was concerned police would leave the hospital and Hyde might become violent again.

He said he spent about five to 10 minutes with Hyde during the 90 minutes before his shift ended at 4:30 a.m. and Dr. Janet MacIntyre took over.

During that time, police officers guarding Hyde said they were keen to get Hyde before a judge in the morning so that he could be arraigned on several charges, Curry said.

In an earlier statement to the RCMP, Curry said officers appeared "gung-ho" to get Hyde out of the hospital.

But Curry stressed Tuesday that while he appreciated the role played by police in this case, he did not feel pressured to release Hyde.

"My concern was to get Mr. Hyde stabilized," he said.

The doctor said he could have committed Hyde, but his health seemed to be rapidly improving and he could see no reason why he couldn't attend an arraignment in the morning, as police had promised.

"He was certainly improving," he said. "He seemed to be doing better by the time I left."

As well, Curry had the option of requesting a psychiatric assessment from a resident at the hospital, but he was reluctant to call anyone at 3 a.m., a "courtesy" that recognized Hyde was resting comfortably and did not require immediate attention.

Still, Curry said he and MacIntyre agreed that if Hyde was to be released, the police should be told to return him to the hospital if he didn't get a forensic psychiatric examination.

"I felt he was definitely going to get a forensic assessment," Curry testified.

The inquiry has heard that MacIntyre made arrangements for an assessment at the hospital before Hyde left, but she discharged him instead with a note to police on a health transfer form saying he had to get an assessment or be returned to the hospital.

MacIntyre is expected to testify Wednesday.

Earlier, two officers testified they didn't have the authority to bring Hyde back to the hospital after dropping him off at court later that afternoon.

On Tuesday, Curry admitted he wasn't sure how the court process worked when it came to psychiatric exams, but he assumed Hyde would get the care he needed.

"In good faith, we felt that if he had to go for an arraignment ... that he would get a psychiatric assessment."

In the end, Hyde never received an assessment and he wasn't given more anti-psychotic drugs.

The note MacIntyre gave to police wasn't passed along to the Crown attorney handling Hyde's case that day. Procedures have since changed to make sure that doesn't happen again.

Hyde died inside the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in the nearby suburb of Dartmouth during a struggle with guards.

The medical examiner later concluded the cause of death was excited delirium stemming from paranoid schizophrenia.

Curry said he would have done things differently had he known Hyde would not be appearing before a judge until much later in the day.

He said the anti-psychotic drug given to Hyde would have lost half of its effectiveness in as little as 21 hours.

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