Nova Scotia

Officer testifies Corey Rogers was 'playing possum' on day he died

One of three Halifax police officers who arrested Corey Rogers the night he died said he thought the man was "playing possum" when he was on the floor of a cell at police headquarters and refused to talk. Two special constables are on trial for criminal negligence causing death after Rogers died in Halifax police custody.

Rogers, 41, died in Halifax police custody in June 2016

Corey Rogers, 41, was a father of four at the time of his death in June 2016. (CBC)

One of three Halifax police officers who arrested Corey Rogers the night he died said he thought the man was "playing possum" when he was on the floor of a cell at police headquarters and refused to talk.

Const. Justin Murphy testified Wednesday at the trial of two special constables, Dan Fraser and Cheryl Gardner,  who are charged with criminal negligence causing death in Rogers's case.

Murphy is an experienced patrol officer and has had to deal with many intoxicated prisoners during his career, including prior encounters with Rogers.

Murphy assisted two other officers in placing Rogers in the back of a patrol car on the night of June 15, 2016. He was arrested in front of the IWK hospital for public intoxication. He had gone to the Halifax hospital to see his newborn daughter, but security guards refused to admit him and instead called police.

The first officer to arrive at the hospital, Const. Ryan Morris, testified that as he pulled up, he saw a man and a woman on the front lawn. He said the man chugged a half pint of Fireball Whisky and threw the empty bottle into a bush. Morris testified he was impressed by how quickly Rogers downed the alcohol and said as much to the two special constables on trial.

Why the officers say they arrested Rogers

Morris, Murphy and a third officer, Donna Lee Paris, told Rogers at the hospital that they were taking him to the police lockup for his own safety. All three testified that he became belligerent and threatening.

On the drive from the hospital to the police station, the officers said Rogers began spitting in the back of the police car. When they arrived at the station, one officer placed a spit hood over Rogers's head, an impermeable cloth that covers the lower half of a person's face and prevents them from spitting.

Rogers refused to walk when he was removed from the back of the police car, so the three arresting officers carried him to the booking area of the police station. Gardner held the door for them as they approached. They placed him face down on the floor while he was processed. 

Video was played in court during the jury trial on Wednesday. The video was seized by Nova Scotia's Serious Incident Response Team (SIRT), the organization that investigates cases where police are involved in deaths or serious injuries.

Video played at trial

The SIRT investigator, Malcolm Stothart, played video from the hospital that showed Rogers at the security desk inside the front entrance. His girlfriend, Emelie Spindler, can be seen escorting him outside, where he is arrested.

Stothart also showed the jury video from the police station. Most of it is silent, but on video from inside the booking area, Rogers can be heard moaning and at one point cursing at the officers when they ask him to stand. When he refused to move on his own, the officers grabbed him by the arms and dragged him into the cell where he eventually died.

What the medical examiner said

Medical examiner Marnie Wood testified that Rogers died because he vomited inside the spit hood and asphyxiated. She said he had four times the legal limit of alcohol in his system when he died. She said that level of alcohol would likely have impaired his motor functions.

The police officers testified they left the spit hood on Rogers because they didn't want him spitting at them as they left the cell. They said they expected him to remove it once his handcuffs were removed. But the hood was still in place when one of the officers on trial discovered him lifeless on the floor of the cell.

Day four of the trial takes place Thursday.

CBC's Blair Rhodes live blogged from court.