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Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Restraint technique led to Hyde's death: lawyer

June 9, 2010
CBC News

The death of a mentally ill Nova Scotia man who fell unconscious after struggling with jail guards was the result of a dangerous restraint technique that stopped his breathing, a lawyer for the man's family told an inquiry Wednesday.

Kevin MacDonald made the argument in his closing submission to an inquiry into the 2007 death of Howard Hyde, a 45-year-old man who battled schizophrenia for most of his adult life.

"It is our view that, but for the restraint, Mr. Hyde would still be alive today," MacDonald said afterwards. "And it was that prone restraint that caused a chemical imbalance in his body that led to his death."

Evidence presented at the inquiry, including a surveillance video, showed that correctional officers at the Halifax-area jail had placed Hyde on his stomach. One officer held his shoulders while two others held his legs, locking his left ankle behind his right knee.

As well, MacDonald argued that a fourth guard — Sgt. Todd Henwood — placed his weight on Hyde's back, even though he testified that he did no such thing.

"He was struggling to survive, struggling to breathe," MacDonald told the inquiry.

Henwood had testified that he was only holding Hyde's wrists, which were cuffed behind his back.

MacDonald said he didn't accept a medical examiner's finding that Hyde died of a rare condition known as excited delirium, which is characterized by increased strength, paranoia and suddenly violent behaviour marked by profuse sweating and an elevated heart rate.

He said Halifax Regional Police must change its restraint policies, noting that the existing guidelines state that people should not be held in the prone position for longer than three minutes.

"It's a dangerous position for three minutes," the lawyer told the inquiry. "It was too long in this case, for sure."

Lawyer criticizes police
MacDonald focused much of his criticism on Halifax police, who he accused of making faulty assumptions and failing to pass along key information. He also said they treated Hyde with contempt and used excessive force.

Sandra MacPherson Duncan, the lawyer representing Halifax police, said the department was unfairly criticized during the inquiry through supposition, innuendo and conjecture.

"Nobody meant Mr. Hyde any harm," she said, noting that he showed little insight to his problems and was prone to violence when he was off his medication.

MacPherson Duncan also challenged recommendations that police require more training in crisis intervention.

"All the crisis intervention training in the world will not help if the mentally ill don't get the treatment they need," she said, suggesting that the lack of resources within the health care system was a key factor in Hyde's tragic case.

She cited testimony from officers who said they remain frustrated with a system that routinely turns away people pulled off the streets in the throes of psychotic behaviour.

A resident of nearby Dartmouth, Hyde was arrested in the early hours of Nov. 21, 2007, after his common-law wife, Karen Ellet, accused him of assaulting her. She told police he was having a psychotic episode and had not been taking his medication.

Closing submissions wrap Thursday
Hyde was taken to the Halifax police station, where he was stunned with a Taser up to five times when he tried to flee the building.

The inquiry heard that Hyde bolted from a search room after an officer told him he was about to use a knife to cut the knotted drawstring on his shorts.

The repeated stuns from the Taser left Hyde unconscious, but he was revived and taken to hospital where he received medication. Doctors at the hospital concluded he needed a psychiatric assessment, but that never happened.

Instead, he was taken to court and then to the jail, where he died on the morning of Nov. 22, 2007.

MacPherson Duncan argued that the use of the stun gun was justified as a means to quickly immobilize a person who posed a threat to the officers' safety.

She stressed that police were following provincial standards when they zapped Hyde during a "logical escalation" of events as they struggled with him.

"To suggest that the CEW (conducted energy weapon) is not viable in those circumstances is just wrong," she said. "Offenders, mentally ill or not, have no right to put officer safety and the public's safety as risk."

The closing submissions wrap up Thursday.

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