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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Officers did not have jurisdiction to follow doctor's orders: senior Halifax cop

October 20, 2009
By Michael Macdonald (CP)

HALIFAX, N.S. — A Halifax police staff sergeant confirmed Monday he knew his officers didn't have the jurisdiction to follow the orders of a doctor who was trying to arrange a psychiatric assessment for a mentally ill man who later died in custody.

Staff Sgt. Don Fox was testifying at the inquiry into the death of Howard Hyde, a 45-year-old musician and diagnosed schizophrenic who died 30 hours after he was repeatedly Tasered inside the Halifax police station during a violent struggle with several officers.

The inquiry has heard that Hyde had been off his medication for a week when he was arrested Nov. 21, 2007, for allegedly assaulting his common-law wife. He was later jolted several times with the Taser as he tried to escape the downtown station.

Fox, a 34-year veteran of the force, told the inquiry that Hyde was taken to a hospital after the Tasering left him in medical distress. Officers have testified that Hyde turned blue and they couldn't find a pulse when they called for help.

The senior officer testified he was surprised when he learned several hours later that the injured man was also being assessed at the hospital for his "mental capacities."

"That's not what he was there for," Fox said. "He was taken there for his physical condition and all of a sudden his mental state came into play."

Fox said he asked for an update on Hyde's condition and the amount of time he would be kept at the hospital because Hyde had to be brought before a judge to face charges within 24 hours of his arrest.

Fox, the 36th witness to testify at the inquiry, confirmed that he told the officer guarding Hyde that the mentally ill man would likely get a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation once he was brought before a judge.

He said the officer later confirmed that a doctor had medically released Hyde to appear in court, but the physician included a key condition on the health information transfer form.

A handwritten note from Dr. Janet MacIntyre said police had to return Hyde to the hospital if the judge did not order a forensic psychiatric assessment.

Earlier in the inquiry, MacIntyre testified that she could have kept Hyde at the hospital for an in-house assessment, but the police officer had expressed some "urgency" about the court appearance.

Fox said the timing "wasn't a big issue at that point," and he stressed that it was routine for police to make arrangements for judges and lawyers to be dispatched to hospitals to handle arraignments if the accused couldn't make it to court.

However, Fox conceded that he knew police did not have the jurisdiction under the Involuntary Psychiatric Treatment Act to carry out MacIntyre's orders to return Hyde to the hospital.

"Police would not have the authority to take him back," Fox said in response to questions from Kevin MacDonald, a lawyer for Hyde's sister and brother-in-law.

Fox testified that even though his officers did not have such jurisdiction, he suggested they could have informally persuaded him to follow the doctor's orders. But that never happened.

Fox said he assumed the court would order an assessment for Hyde, but that didn't happen either.

Outside the inquiry's hearing room, MacDonald said MacIntyre had been left with the wrong impression from police.

"If Dr. MacIntyre had known that it could not happen, she would have not released Mr. Hyde to the police - and she's testified to that effect," he said.

Once Hyde was in the court system, he became the responsibility of the province's sheriff's department, which is in charge of court security and prisoner transfers.

Earlier evidence revealed that MacIntyre's instructions weren't relayed to Crown or defence lawyers because health information forms were not one of the documents routinely disclosed to justice officials. That practice has since been changed.

In the end, the judge presiding over Hyde's court appearance decided to transfer him to the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility, where he died the next morning after a scuffle with guards.

Correctional officers and mental health staff members at the provincial jail are expected to testify in the days ahead.

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