Nova Scotia

No incarceration for special constables sentenced in Halifax jail death

Dan Fraser and Cheryl Gardner were found guilty in a jury trial in November 2019. Justice Kevin Coady delivered his sentencing decision Monday in Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Halifax.

Corey Rogers choked to death in 2016 after spit hood not removed from his face

Dan Fraser and Cheryl Gardner were found guilty of criminal negligence in a jury trial in November 2019. (CBC/CBC)

Two special constables will not face a jail sentence for their role in the death of a man in a cell at Halifax Regional Police headquarters in 2016.

Corey Rogers died of asphyxiation after choking on his own vomit while he was being kept in cells after being arrested for public intoxication.

Dan Fraser and Cheryl Gardner were found guilty of criminal negligence in a jury trial in November 2019. Justice Kevin Coady delivered his sentencing decision Monday in Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Halifax.

Coady gave the two special constables a suspended sentence, with three years probation and 200 hours of community service.

"The video evidence clearly establishes that Mr. Rogers was highly intoxicated and non-responsive upon admission to booking ... the arresting officers and the defendants anticipated that he would sleep it off and be released the next morning. Unfortunately, that is not how it played out," Coady said as he delivered his decision.

Corey Rogers died in June 2016 in a cell at Halifax Regional Police headquarters, the day after his daughter was born. (Jeannette Rogers)

Coady noted that, contrary to policy, the special constables did not remove a spit hood from Rogers's face or check on him every 15 minutes, and the first time anyone entered his cell was after he had died.

Fraser and Gardner testified they didn't receive training in the use of a spit hood and didn't have the resources to complete checks on prisoners every 15 minutes.

"The evidence indicates that Mr. Rogers's death resulted in the development of policies around the use of spit hoods," Coady said. "Until that time, they were not viewed as a dangerous police tool, but rather as a benign piece of protective equipment."

Crown prosecutor Chris Vanderhooft was seeking two years in prison each for Fraser and Gardner. The defence was seeking a sentence that did not involve any time in jail or prison.

Jeannette Rogers, Corey Rogers's mother, has attended each step of the court process. She told the media her son suffered from the illness of alcoholism, and that his daughter is growing up without knowing her father.

Family angry, hurt and tired

When Rogers was arrested, he was outside the IWK children's hospital in Halifax after trying to get in to see his newborn daughter.

"I realize that the whole thing is a systemic problem. It's not just the two booking officers. I am angry that they got a suspended sentence. I don't think that was appropriate. They neglected to do their job," said Jeanette Rogers.

Rogers added she felt some jail time would have been appropriate.

Jeannette Rogers, the mother of Corey Rogers, said she's angry about the sentence. (Robert Short/CBC)

"I've said all along that I'm not out to destroy someone's life, even though they've destroyed mine. However, I do feel they should have gotten some jail time. To me, it says that Corey's life was not worth anything," she said.

Rogers said she is angry, hurt and tired, and hopes there will be an appeal of the sentence.

Message of deterrence

The judge said he felt it was not necessary to impose jail time to send a message of deterrence. He said he accepted that the two defendants lead "pro-social" lives and are unlikely to offend again.

"The fact of the matter is, that Mr. Rogers died as a result of their criminal negligence and that is the most aggravating factor. I cannot see any other aggravating factor at play, but I find they are all subsumed in the element of the offence," Coady said.

Joel Pink, right, speaks to the media following the sentencing hearing of his client, special constable Cheryl Gardner. (Paul Poirier/CBC)

Defence lawyers Ronald Pizzo and Joel Pink acted for Cheryl Gardner, while David Bright represented Dan Fraser.

"Jail is the last thing a court should consider. If there are other alternatives, they should apply that rather than putting a person in jail," said Pink outside court.

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With files from Vernon Ramesar

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