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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Guard's memory scrutinized at Hyde inquiry

October 28, 2009
CBC News/Canadian Press

A corrections officer who helped restrain a mentally ill man moments before he died in a Halifax jail cell says his memory of what he did that morning two years ago is better today than it was when he gave a statement to the RCMP in the hours after Howard Hyde died.

Michael Green testified Wednesday at an inquiry which is trying to determine why the man never received the psychiatric help he needed and how to prevent similar deaths.

The probe has heard that the 45-year-old, who had not been taking his medication to deal with schizophrenia, was arrested for an alleged assault and taken into custody at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility on Nov. 21, 2007.

Hyde died the next morning after two struggles with guards, about 30 hours after police repeatedly stunned him with a Taser as he tried to escape from a downtown Halifax police station.

Green told the inquiry that when he gave his statement to the RCMP in 2007, he was "very emotional" after he learned of Hyde's death and he wasn't certain that he described the events he witnessed in the right order.

Green said he now has a more "vivid recollection" of the moment during the second struggle when Hyde's body went limp and he stopped responding to the officers trying to subdue him on the floor of the cell.

"I do not recall certain events in my mind today occurring in the same order that they did in my statement," he told lawyer Kevin MacDonald, who represents Hyde's sister and brother-in-law.

"I've been playing my role in this incident inside my head since the incident."

Hyde unconscious
Green testified that Hyde was on his stomach with his hands cuffed behind his back when he suddenly went limp and officers immediately decided to remove the cuffs and roll him on his side.

Evidence presented at the inquiry shows Hyde was unconscious and his face quickly turned from red to blue, indicating he wasn't getting enough oxygen.

When Green was shown a surveillance video recorded inside the cell, he couldn't pinpoint when Hyde went limp.

The chain of events is important because it could shed new light on what caused Hyde's death.

A medical examiner concluded Hyde died from a condition known as excited delirium stemming from paranoid schizophrenia.

Hyde's mental state is also a key issue because the doctor who observed Hyde after he was stunned by the Taser had included a note on his health transfer form that said police should bring him back to the hospital if he did not receive a court-ordered psychiatric assessment.

Hyde never received an assessment and he wasn't returned to the hospital, mainly because of confusion over the form and questions over who had jurisdiction over Hyde as he moved from police custody into the court system and then to the correctional facility.

Green recalled that Hyde was yelling as he struggled with corrections officers. He said Hyde was shouting something about needing a haircut to get into the RCMP.

Another officer has told the inquiry Hyde started struggling with the guards after he said he didn't want to walk down a hallway in the jail because there were "demons" there.

Physical struggle
Before Hyde lost consciousness, Green recalled that he was focused on controlling Hyde's legs, which he eventually locked together by forcing Hyde's left ankle behind his right knee while raising the right leg.

"His legs were very difficult to control," Green testified, stressing that he couldn't remember what other officers were doing to Hyde.

The video shows there were at least three other officers crouched over Hyde as they struggled in the cell.

"I do not recall anything anyone had said inside the cell, nor do I recall what each person was doing inside the cell, other than myself," Green said.

Other corrections officers have testified that at no time did any of them place their entire body weight on Hyde.

Green said he didn't release Hyde from the leg hold until he was told to do so by the corrections officer in charge, Todd Henwood. He said he couldn't recall when the handcuffs were removed.

The officer said his memory of what happened was limited because of the intense focus he placed on controlling Hyde's legs.

"Your focus becomes very narrow to the point that, I guess you could say, tunnel vision. You are only focused on what you are doing."

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