Nova Scotia

N.S. jury views video of man dying in jail with spit hood over mouth

The Crown in the criminal negligence trial of two special constables of Halifax Regional Police has wrapped its case. Dan Fraser and Cheryl Gardner are accused of failing to take proper care of Corey Rogers on the night of June 15, 2016, when he was placed in a jail cell for public intoxication.

Daniel Fraser and Cheryl Gardner are charged with criminal negligence in death of Corey Rogers

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

A Nova Scotia jury has viewed video of a dying man heaving in a barren Halifax jail cell, in a case where the Crown alleges two special constables failed to properly check on the prisoner.

Daniel Fraser and Cheryl Gardner are charged with criminal negligence causing death in the June 16, 2016 death of 41-year-old Corey Rogers.

The video shown to the jury Thursday captures a visibly intoxicated Rogers wearing a spit hood — a mesh device placed over a prisoners' face to stop them from spitting on officers — as he is dragged into the police station and left in a narrow lockup cell at about 11 p.m. on June 15.

About a half hour after Rogers is placed in the cell, he is still wearing the impermeable restraint device as he begins retching.

The video indicates Rogers' last movements in his cell occurred at 11:41 p.m. on June 15, yet Fraser is only seen entering the cell and attempting to rouse Rogers nearly two hours later.

Here's what the jurors saw (edited for length):

Corey Rogers died in Halifax police custody in June 2016. This video has been edited for length from the original version shown to the jury at trial. 3:55

Here's our explanation:

  • The first video was from the lobby of the IWK Health Centre children's hospital. Rogers had been there earlier in the day to witness the birth of his daughter. But when he returned later that evening, the three security guards on duty refused to let him in because he was drunk. Instead, they summoned his partner, who can be seen on the video pushing Rogers outside, where he was arrested.
  • When the police that were carrying Rogers from the hospital arrived at police headquarters, they had to wait while officers processed another prisoner. Rogers had been spitting during the drive, so one officer placed a spit hood over the lower part of his face. Rogers refused to walk, so three officers carried him into the station.
  • The officers carried Rogers into the booking area of the station and placed him on the floor. They searched him and removed shoe laces and anything else he could use to harm himself. He could be heard on the video moaning and occasionally uttering profanities.
  • Again, Rogers refused to walk, so two officers grabbed him under his arms and dragged him down a hallway and into a cell. It is a "dry" cell, meaning it has no sink, toilet or bed. The bare room is meant to prevent an intoxicated prisoner from injuring themselves.
  • Officers removed the handcuffs and left the cell. The spit hood was still in place. At one point on the video, Rogers can be seen convulsing. The medical examiner said he may have vomited at that point. But for nearly two hours, he lies motionless. No one enters the cell during that period.
  • Finally, one of the two accused enters the cell, discovers Rogers isn't moving and calls for help. Police and paramedics arrive in quick succession. We are not showing this portion of the video out of respect for Rogers and his family.

A number of instances in the video show either Gardner or Fraser looking into the cell, and Gardner does say Rogers' name during two of her stops.

However, the Crown argues those checks failed to meet the standard for a highly intoxicated inmate, where procedures expect the special constables to enter the cells and "shake them gently," as one of a series of checks.

Keith Stothart, an investigator with the Serious Incident Response Team, Nova Scotia's police watchdog, testified Wednesday that spit hoods come with instructions that say "improper use of the... hood can cause injury or death."

The instructions say the hood shouldn't be used if the person isn't under "constant visual supervision," or is vomiting or having difficulty breathing.

Stothart also testified that the intake form filled out by the booking officers indicated Rogers was "too intoxicated to answer."

Rogers should have been medically checked: prosecutor

In his opening statement, prosecutor Chris Vanderhooft argued Rogers was an inmate with four times the legal driving limit of alcohol in his blood, and should have been medically checked before being admitted — and "appropriately" checked every 15 minutes while in his cell.

Charges of criminal negligence causing death were laid against the special constables by the Serious Incident Response Team in November 2017.

Special constables are civilians appointed to specialized duties, including the booking of prisoners.

Under the Criminal Code of Canada, criminal negligence is defined as completing or omitting any duty in a way that shows "wanton or reckless disregard" for the lives or safety of others.

Court heard that in the hours before his death, Rogers was arrested under the Liquor Control Act around 10:30 p.m. outside the IWK Health Centre.

According to the Crown's opening statement, Rogers was there because his partner Emilie Spindler had given birth to their child the day before.

Spindler testified Monday that Rogers had left the hospital on the afternoon of June 15 to cash a welfare cheque, and when he returned he was extremely impaired from drinking a bottle of Fireball whiskey.

She said he later argued with officers, who handcuffed him, placed him in a police vehicle and took him into the station.

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With files from Blair Rhodes