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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Video of mentally ill Halifax man's final hours of life shown at inquiry

October 20, 2009
By Michael Macdonald (CP)

HALIFAX, N.S. — Grainy images from a silent surveillance videotape flickered in a hushed Halifax courtroom Tuesday as a public inquiry started a painstaking visual review of the actions of jail guards and health officials during the final hours of Howard Hyde's life.

Hyde, a 45-year-old musician with a long history of mental illness, died on the morning of Nov. 22, 2007 after a brief struggle with guards at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility.

The day before he died, he was arrested for allegedly assaulting his common-law wife, who told police Hyde, diagnosed in his 20s with paranoid schizophrenia, had not taken his medication for a week and needed psychiatric help.

The inquiry, which started in July, has spent weeks trying to determine why that never happened.

The first two videos played Tuesday showed Hyde leaving a van in shackles and entering the jail, where he sits on a stool as his paperwork is processed by Chris Dixon, a correctional officer.

Dixon testified he was aware that after Hyde was arrested, he was involved in a struggle at a police station in Halifax, where he was Tasered up to five times and eventually lapsed into unconsciousness.

The officer said Hyde's demeanour when he arrived at the jail at 5 p.m. did not concern him until Hyde rose from the stool for a moment. He also said Hyde seemed to be speaking in riddles at times, but that didn't bother the officer because of his frequent dealings with the mentally ill.

"He seemed to be fine at that point," he said.

In another video played Tuesday, Dixon and other guards can be seen coming and going from a hallway on the morning Hyde died.

Dixon told the inquiry that Hyde had struggled with guards that morning and was taken down the hallway to a cell around 7:30 a.m.

"He was shouting out about ... the RCMP," Dixon said. "He said, 'Don't take me down there. There are demons."'

Dixon recalled that Hyde was handcuffed behind the back and hauled backwards by the arms.

Hyde continued to struggle as he was pulled inside the cell by at least two other guards, Dixon said.

Dixon said Hyde was eventually pushed to the floor and subdued by another officer who straddled his legs inside the cell.

He said he saw the officer holding Hyde's wrists where they were cuffed, but the officer did not appear to apply any pressure to Hyde's back.

"Then he became quiet ... We thought it was all over," said Dixon, noting that Hyde appeared to stop resisting the officer as he laid face down.

But it soon became clear that Hyde was no longer conscious as officers called his name and received no response.

Dixon said he called for help on his two-way radio and health officials from another part of the jail arrived within minutes.

He said he didn't know if paramedics were able to revive Hyde before he was taken to hospital, where he was later pronounced dead.

A coroner listed Hyde's cause of death as excited delirium stemming from paranoid schizophrenia.

Dixon testified he had no training on how to deal with mentally ill people prior to Hyde's death, and he twice told the inquiry that improved training in that area would help him do his job.

Having served for four years as a corrections officer, Dixon said he encountered mentally ill inmates on a daily basis.

At times, the videos played Tuesday showed very little because justice officials have blacked out the identities of corrections officers and inmates not directly involved in the case. The videos also lack sound.

Other videotapes, including one recorded inside the cell where Hyde died, are expected to be played later at the inquiry.

The inquiry resumes Wednesday.

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