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Thursday, May 12, 2011

Hyde death prompts N.S. changes

May 12, 2011
CBC News

The Nova Scotia government says it is still trying to mend gaps in the justice system more than three years after the jail cell death of a mentally ill man.

Howard Hyde died on Nov. 22, 2007, after a struggle with guards at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Dartmouth, N.S., in which the 45-year-old schizophrenic man was shocked with a Taser up to five times in the 30 hours before he died.

"People with mental illness are from time to time going to come into the justice system. We really need to have a much better, seamless, relationship between these two departments," Health Minister Maureen MacDonald said of her department and the Justice Department.

Hyde fell through the cracks between the justice system and the health system, with doctors releasing him to police, expecting he would be sent for a mental-health assessment. He was never sent for an assessment and died in police custody.

Three weeks ago, Nova Scotia opened an intensive care ward at the East Coat Forensic Psychiatric Hospital in Burnside. Hyde would likely have been sent there, had it existed at the time.

Call for stun gun restraint

In December, provincial court Judge Anne Derrick released a report into Hyde's death that concluded the repeated jolts from the Taser did not cause him to die. She also said excited delirium — a condition characterized by increased strength, paranoia and suddenly violent behaviour marked by profuse sweating and an elevated heart rate — was not the cause of death.

"The only useful approach is to understand that Mr. Hyde died because of physiological changes in his body brought on by an intense struggle involving restraint," Derrick wrote at the time.

"He did not die because he was mentally ill."

As one of Derrick's 80 recommendations, she said stun guns should not be used against emotionally agitated people, except as a last resort.

In its formal response to Derrick's report, the government said Thursday that the use of stun guns has dropped since Hyde's death but provincial guidelines on the use of conducted energy weapons are still being finalized.

Better than lethal options

Justice Minister Ross Landry and MacDonald had little to say about the other recommendations in Derrick's report and simply said the training program for those dealing with mentally ill people had been revised.

"You can see upon some occasions where not having that instrument you might have to resort to another piece of equipment that could give lethal force," Landry said.

The ministers said all of the judge's recommendations were considered, including increasing funding for mental health services.

MacDonald said a mental health strategy, to be released in the fall, will provide more details on the 90 actions the government is taking. Of those actions, 20 have to do with training in dealing with people with mental health issues as well as conducted energy weapons.

The government did not say how much it would cost to implement these actions or when it would be in place.

"Unfortunately Howard died and that's very troubling," said Stephen Ayer of the Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia. 'However things have changed immensely because of his death."

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