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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

No psychiatrist to help officer, inquiry hears

October 27, 2009
CBC/The Canadian Press

The corrections officer in charge of the scene when a Nova Scotia man died in custody almost two years ago says he could have used the help of a psychiatrist that morning, had he known the inmate was mentally ill.

Capt. Todd Henwood testified Tuesday at an inquiry into the death of Howard Hyde, who died after twice struggling with guards at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Burnside on Nov. 22, 2007.

The inquiry, which started in July, is trying to determine why Hyde, who was under arrest for an alleged assault, never received the psychiatric help he needed and what can be done to prevent similar deaths in the future.

Henwood, a corrections officer for 18 years and a sergeant at the time of Hyde's death, told the inquiry he was unaware that Hyde had long suffered from schizophrenia and hadn't been taking his medication.

Like most of the corrections officers who have testified at the inquiry, Henwood confirmed he hadn't been trained to deal with the mentally ill even though he dealt with them almost every day.

As well, he said he wasn't told that Halifax police had stunned the 45-year-old with a Taser up to five times the day before, when he tried to escape from a downtown police station.

Lawyer Kevin MacDonald, who represents Hyde's sister and brother-in-law, pointed out that another corrections officer, Chris Dixon, had testified that he told Henwood about the Taser incident and about Hyde's mental illness.

But Henwood told the inquiry he didn't recall that conversation.

Hallway struggle
Asked to describe what happened the day Hyde died, Henwood testified he rushed to a hallway near the jail's admitting area when he received word that other corrections officers needed help.

When he arrived, Hyde was on the floor, face down, surrounded by several officers and handcuffed behind his back. The inmate was then lifted to his feet and pulled backward down the hallway to a nearby cell.

Henwood said Hyde was making "odd" comments about his hair and being a Mountie after the first struggle, but the officer said he didn't consider sending Hyde to the jail's health-care unit.

He said it would have been unsafe to bring Hyde to the unit because he was "rebellious," and it wasn't clear to him that the man was having a psychotic episode.

However, shortly after Hyde's death, Henwood gave a statement to the RCMP in which he said Hyde "wasn't in a mental state that was normal."

Even if he knew Hyde was mentally ill, Henwood said he wouldn't have had the proper resources to deal with his condition, mainly because there was no psychiatrist on duty that early in the morning.

When asked what resources would have helped, Henwood said he probably would have sought the help of a psychiatrist had one been working.

Once inside the cell, Hyde continued to struggle with the guards, the inquiry was told.

Henwood said he grabbed the man's legs and pulled them out from under him, forcing Hyde to the floor. He said Hyde's landing was "as soft as it could have been."

The senior officer said he recalled Hyde bucking his hips back and forth as he lay on his side. To gain control, he said he used a hold called a wrist-lock to force Hyde onto his stomach.

Images from a surveillance camera inside the cell show at least four officers crouched over Hyde, but it is difficult to determine what is happening because most of Hyde's body can't be seen.

Hyde's final moments
Henwood insisted he didn't place his weight on Hyde's body, though he said he couldn't speak for the other officers in the room. The officer said he weighed about 290 pounds at the time.

"I was bridged over the top of him," he told the inquiry, explaining that he was in a squatting position next to Hyde with one hand on the chain linking the cuffs on the man's wrists.

Henwood testified that he thought Hyde had held his breath for a few seconds before his body went limp and he stopped responding to the officers.

"Mr. Hyde was not responding verbally," Henwood said, noting there was blood coming from his nose.

At that point, Henwood recalled taking off the cuffs and saying to the other officers, "Boys, we have a problem here."

He said he was monitoring Hyde's breathing and detected a pulse just before health-care staff arrived a few minutes later.

However, Henwood also admitted that shortly after he learned Hyde had died, he had told the RCMP that he wasn't sure if Hyde had a pulse. Henwood said Tuesday the stress of that day had taken its toll and he was second-guessing himself.

"But upon reflection, I'm confident … that I had a pulse."

He said Hyde's face turned purple just as health-care staff arrived in the cell and a nurse quickly determined that Hyde did not have a pulse. They started CPR, but Hyde never regained consciousness.

A medical examiner later concluded that Hyde died of excited delirium stemming from paranoid schizophrenia.

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