October 18, 2009
By Alison Auld (CP)
HALIFAX, N.S. — An inquiry that resumes Monday into the death of a mentally ill man who was repeatedly Tasered by Halifax police will turn to the final hours of his life and the central question of why he didn't receive a doctor-ordered psychiatric assessment, a lawyer for the man's family says.
Kevin MacDonald said the hearing into the 2007 death of Howard Hyde will look at how the 45-year-old paranoid schizophrenic was treated by the court system and guards at a correctional facility where he died 30 hours after police stunned him up to five times.
The hearing, which began in July and has been on hiatus since mid-August, will focus on what happened to Hyde after he was released from hospital following the Tasering and sent to the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility, where he collapsed after struggling with guards.
MacDonald said he will show that Hyde, a musician who had several earlier run-ins with police, didn't undergo a mental health evaluation despite widespread recognition that he had a psychiatric illness and had been off his medications for weeks.
"A big part of this case is the treatment of people with mental illness, and it was surprising that everyone appeared to recognize that Mr. Hyde had a mental illness and was displaying signs of mental illness, but no one was prepared to take any steps to get him any help," MacDonald, who represents Hyde's sister and brother-in-law, said in an interview.
"There seemed to be a system breakdown at every step of the way and there didn't seem to be any checks for him."
A key element of the probe is an instruction given by an emergency room physician who treated Hyde after he lapsed into unconsciousness and stopped breathing soon after police restrained him during a violent struggle at the police station.
Dr. Janet MacIntyre testified that she had filled out a health information form before Hyde was released from the hospital into police custody, indicating he was to be brought back to the hospital if a forensic psychiatric exam wasn't ordered by a judge.
MacIntyre said she would not have discharged him had she known he would be sent to a jail cell rather than a psychiatric hospital following his arrest on Nov. 21, 2007, for alleging assaulting his common-law spouse.
MacIntyre testified that a police officer told her he was confident Hyde would get a court-ordered assessment once he appeared before a judge later that day.
"I felt quite certain that was going to happen in a timely manner," MacIntyre told the inquiry. "The police officer I spoke to felt that would be highly likely. So that's the route I chose."
But the rookie officer who spoke to MacIntyre testified that he didn't have a good grasp of the court process.
MacIntyre said she could have kept Hyde at the hospital for an in-house assessment, but police expressed some "urgency" about the court appearance.
Another emergency room doctor testified he told the RCMP that Halifax police were "gung-ho" to get Hyde out of the hospital and into a courtroom.
The deputy sheriffs escorting Hyde to court did not hand the health form to lawyers handling the case because legislation at the time forbade them from sharing such information with anyone but health-care providers.
In the end, the judge presiding over the arraignment did not order a psychiatric assessment and Hyde was sent to the correctional facility.
Dan MacRury, the inquiry's lead counsel, said communications between the various health and justice sectors that came into contact with Hyde is a critical part of the probe and will likely be central to recommendations when it concludes.
For example, he said when MacIntyre released Hyde as being "medically stable," it may have been interpreted incorrectly by justice officials that he was mentally and physically cleared.
"Certainly that was one communication area that may have to be improved," he said. "At the end of the day, how all the systems work and how they work together I think is important."
The inquiry will also examine training for police and others on how to deal with people with mental illnesses. Video played earlier showed several officers at the station tackling Hyde after he tried to flee custody when an officer came at him with a knife-like device to cut a string from his shorts.
"How quick the officers went to the Taser was striking when really Mr. Hyde was not offering the resistance that was being suggested in the testimony," MacDonald said.
"There should have been efforts made to speak to Mr. Hyde to defuse the situation. ... To go to use of force that is an intermediate weapon when he was clearly only scared and trying to get away from the knife was excessive."
The probe is expected to resume with testimony from the Crown prosecutor who handled Hyde's case and from health workers at the correctional facility.
A coroner listed the cause of death as excited delirium stemming from paranoid schizophrenia.
WELCOME to TRUTH ... not TASERS
Sunday, October 18, 2009
October 18, 2009