Nova Scotia

'They have a duty of care,' says mother of man who died in police lockup

An ER doctor ordered a psychiatric assessment for Howard Hyde when he was handed over to Halifax police in 2007. He didn't get one and died in jail. Ten years later, the question of medical assessments is again being raised in the case of Corey Rogers, who died in police lockup.

Deaths of Corey Rogers and Howard Hyde highlight need for medical checks of vulnerable people in custody

Jeannette Rogers says unless policies change at Halifax Regional Police, "the next time it could be your son or daughter." (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

The deaths of Corey Rogers and Howard Hyde, nine years apart, are very different cases — but what they share is troubling, according to Rogers's mother and a law professor.

Both men were arrested by Halifax Regional Police. Both needed medical attention. And both died in custody.

Rogers, heavily intoxicated, died of asphyxiation in a police cell in June 2016.

Hyde, a man with schizophrenia who was in a psychotic state, was Tasered by police multiple times in the station's booking area in November 2007. Thirty hours after he was hit with the stun gun, he died while being restrained by jail guards. His death was ruled accidental.

Need for medical assessments

Rogers's mother, Jeannette Rogers, wonders whether any lessons have been learned since the Hyde case about the need for medical attention for vulnerable people in custody.

Corey Rogers, who had a history of alcohol abuse, was arrested for public intoxication outside the IWK Health Centre where his partner had just given birth.

Corey Rogers died hours after his daughter was born. (Jeannette Rogers)

Corey was too drunk to book, she said, and arresting officers should have obtained medical care for him.

"He should have been in hospital as opposed to being in a police cell," she said. "Corey should have been assessed — if not before he was taken to the police station, definitely once they got him there. He couldn't stand up."

Rogers said there is a recurring theme in her son's and Hyde's experience in police lockup.

Corey Rogers, 41, died in June 2016 while in Halifax Regional Police custody. (CBC)

"They have to be aware when people need a medical assessment," she said. "Once somebody is placed in their care, they have a duty of care."

Rogers cited a CBC News story that said 249 people were arrested in one month by Halifax Regional Police for public intoxication.

She said she's speaking out because "the next time, it could be your son or daughter."

Jeannette Rogers wears a pendant that holds her son's ashes. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

Duty of care

Archie Kaiser, a professor at Dalhousie University's Schulich School of Law, said the Rogers and Hyde cases speak to the issue of duty of care for anyone who is vulnerable due to mental health difficulties or intoxication or both.

He said police have a legal and moral responsibility to detain someone safely, which includes determining if they're medically safe for custody and checking them frequently to ensure their condition hasn't deteriorated.

Schulich School of Law professor Archie Kaiser says police have a duty of care for people in their custody. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

Those issues arose during an investigation into the death of Victoria Paul, an Indigenous woman who died after she was held in the Truro Police Service lockup. A report recommended implementing better policies to assess the condition of intoxicated people. 

"They have no more independent decision-making, and the state is wholly responsible for their welfare. So it's obvious then that as a moral obligation, the jailers must ensure people are safe and protected," said Kaiser.

Charges laid

Two Halifax police special constables, Dan Fraser and Cheryl Gardner, were charged earlier this month with criminal negligence in the death of Rogers.

They are accused of "accepting Corey Rogers into custody without medical assessment, failing to adequately check on him, and leaving a spit hood on him," according to a court document filed earlier this month.

The spit hoods used by Halifax police, called Safariland Tranzport hoods, have mesh at the top so the wearer can see, and fabric covering the nose and mouth to catch spit or other bodily fluids.

The charges were recommended by the Serious Incident Response Team, which investigated the death.

Same booking officer

Fraser was on duty as a booking officer in police lockup in both the Hyde and Rogers cases.

In July 2009, he appeared at the inquiry into Howard Hyde's death. The 11-month public investigation is the longest fatality inquiry in Nova Scotia history and produced a 462-page report.

Howard Hyde died after being restrained by jail guards, 30 hours after he was arrested and Tasered by police. (Family photo/The Canadian Press)

While Fraser was commended for successfully calming Hyde from an agitated state, the inquiry report also found problems in the police booking area.

After he was Tasered, Hyde was seen by an emergency physician who issued an urgent order that he receive psychiatric assessment after police took him to court. 

Fraser told the inquiry he had never seen a health information transfer form with that instruction. He didn't seek any clarification, assuming Hyde was "safe to go to cells and safe to go to court," he told the inquiry.

Special Constable Daniel Fraser, who is facing a charge in the death of Corey Rogers, testified at the Howard Hyde fatality inquiry in 2009. (Nova Scotia Judiciary)

The inquiry found no wrongdoing against Fraser or any of the police officers, but said a mobile mental health crisis team "could have been called to assess Mr. Hyde in booking."

'I don't think he learned anything'

Hyde ended up going to jail without medication and without an assessment. On his stomach and struggling to breathe as he was being restrained by jail guards, Hyde died.

Rogers said in light of Fraser's testimony at the inquiry, she thinks he should've been more sensitive to the issues raised about people in detention.

"One would think that after going through the inquiry, you would think he would have a better understanding of what needs to be done and follow through with that," said Rogers. "I don't think he learned anything from being involved in the Hyde inquiry."

Policy review on high-risk prisoners

In a statement, Halifax Regional Police said due to criminal proceedings and civil litigation, they are unable to provide further comment on this case or on the review of their policy on high-risk prisoners.

Both Fraser and Gardner have been released on $5,000 bail and are due back in court on Jan. 22.

In the meantime, they continue to work for the police service.

Fraser is working as a court liaison officer, a non-uniform position.

Police would not disclose Gardner's current duties. She is under a court order not to work in booking.

About the Author

Elizabeth Chiu is a reporter in Nova Scotia and hosts Atlantic Tonight on Saturdays at 7 p.m., 7:30 p.m. in Newfoundland. If you have a story idea for her, contact her at