Nova Scotia

2nd officer charged in jail death testifies she had no spit hood training

The second of two special constables on trial for criminal negligence in the death of a Halifax man testified in her own defence on Wednesday in Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Halifax.

Cheryl Gardner was on duty evening of June 15, 2016, when intoxicated Corey Rogers brought into cells

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

The second of two special constables on trial for criminal negligence in the death of a Halifax man testified in her own defence on Wednesday in Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Halifax.

Cheryl Gardner was on duty on the evening of June 15, 2016, when an intoxicated Corey Rogers was brought into the cells area at Halifax Regional Police headquarters on Gottingen Street.

Police had arrested Rogers in front of the IWK children's hospital earlier that evening. He'd been turned away by security guards when he attempted to visit his newborn daughter.

The officers who arrested him testified earlier at trial that Rogers became belligerent and started spitting at them during the drive to the police station, so they placed a spit hood over his head when they arrived.

The hood is an impermeable fabric mask that covers the lower half of a person's face and prevents them from spitting. The medical examiner testified that Rogers died of asphyxiation in a cell that night after vomiting into the hood.

Gardner and her partner, Dan Fraser, are on trial before a judge and jury. They are accused of failing to take proper care of Rogers and failing to recognize that in his state of intoxication he required closer supervision than they gave him.

Never read spit hood instructions

Gardner, 47, testified she received two weeks training when she was hired as a special constable, followed by about two months of on-the-job training. But she said it did not include training on how to assess whether a prisoner was fit to be admitted to cells, and for that booking officers instead relied on their personal experience.

She also said she had received no training on how to properly apply a spit hood.

Under cross-examination by Crown prosecutor Chris Vanderhooft, Gardner admitted she never read the instructions that come with each spit hood. Those instructions include the warning that a prisoner wearing the device should never be left alone and unsupervised because there is a risk of death or serious injury.

Gardner said she had dealt with Rogers before that night and knew he could be belligerent when he had been drinking. She said as part of her assessment of him, she relied on information provided by the three arresting officers.

When she tried to complete the medical form that must be filled out before any prisoner can be admitted to cells, she wrote "too intoxicated to answer" for seven of the eight questions on the questionnaire.

She said she reached that conclusion after the arresting officers told her Rogers wouldn't answer her. For the eighth question, Gardner wrote that Rogers had no visible signs of injury, although she admitted she didn't remove the spit hood to examine his face.

Punched and bitten

Gardner said she had to deal with intoxicated prisoners almost every shift she worked at the police station. She said she had been spit on, punched, kicked and bitten on the job.

Gardner said she knew that prisoners had to be checked every 15 minutes, but she added that was not always possible. She listed all the administrative duties required of booking officers that might prevent them from completing cell checks on schedule.

On the night Rogers died, Gardner can be seen on security video from the cells area doing rounds. At one point, she stopped in front of Rogers's cell and called out to him. She said she saw him move and took that as a response to her check.

Thought it too dangerous to enter cell alone

A short time later, as she performed another check, she said she kicked the cell door to make a sound to see if Rogers would respond. She said he didn't, but she didn't think to check on him further because she thought he was sleeping and she said it could be dangerous to awaken an intoxicated person. She said it was too dangerous to enter a cell alone.

Both Gardner and Fraser have testified they lacked the resources in the booking area to do the sort of "Four Rs" checks outlined in a government directive issued in 2012. The first "R" refers to the requirement to rouse an intoxicated person to make sure they are all right.

The two special constables said they told their superiors they needed more resources to do those checks as scheduled. They said they never heard back about their concerns.

The court was told Wednesday that as a result of Rogers's death, a policy change was introduced, limiting the use of spit hoods just to booking officers and not patrol officers.

Fraser's lawyer wrapped his defence on Tuesday. Gardner's defence concluded on Wednesday. The lawyers will make their final arguments on Thursday with the judge expected to give his final instructions to the jury on Friday morning.