Nova Scotia

Hyde remembered fondly at close of inquiry

After amassing 11,000 pages of testimony from 84 witnesses, an inquiry into the jail-cell death of a mentally ill Nova Scotia man wrapped up Thursday with the presiding judge recalling there was more to Howard Hyde than his long battle with schizophrenia.

After amassing 11,000 pages of testimony from 84 witnesses, an inquiry into the jail-cell death of a mentally ill Nova Scotia man wrapped up Thursday with the presiding judge recalling there was more to Howard Hyde than his long battle with schizophrenia.

Judge Anne Derrick, who has led the fatality inquiry since hearings began last July, quoted from testimony offered on the first day by Karen Ellet, Hyde's common-law wife.

The judge said Ellet provided a "vibrant portrayal" of a lively, sociable man who loved music, sports, movies and walks on the beach — when he was on his medication.

"He was a joy to be around, very likable," Derrick said as she relayed Ellet's words. "An incredible man."

In the early hours of Nov. 21, 2007, Hyde was arrested by Halifax police after Ellet called a crisis hotline to complain that her partner had assaulted her. Police were dispatched and Hyde was arrested.

The inquiry heard Ellet told police Hyde had not been taking his medication and required psychiatric treatment.

But that never happened.

Instead, the 45-year-old man from Dartmouth was taken to the Halifax police station, where he was stunned with a Taser up to five times when he tried to flee the building.

Police testified that they thought Hyde's heart had stopped after he had been stunned. But Hyde was revived and taken to hospital, where he received anti-psychotic medication.

The two doctors who handled Hyde's file agreed he should receive a psychiatric assessment, but there was confusion as to how that would happen, given that police were saying Hyde was still facing charges.

Hyde released from hospital

Hyde was released from hospital later that morning with a doctor's note saying he should be returned to the emergency department if the court failed to provide him with an assessment.

Again, there was confusion as to how those instructions would be carried out.

In the end, Hyde appeared briefly in court that afternoon and was transferred to the Halifax-area jail where he died the next morning after a scuffle with guards.

A medical examiner concluded the cause of death was excited delirium with three contributing factors: the restraint technique used by guards and Hyde's obesity and heart disease.

Kevin MacDonald, a lawyer representing Hyde's sister, Joanna, argued that the cause of death was actually the guard's restraint method, which left Hyde on his stomach with his left ankle locked behind his right knee.

The evidence indicates that one of the guards, Sgt. Todd Henwood, put his weight on Hyde's back, making it impossible for him to breathe, MacDonald told the inquiry.

Henwood, who weighted 290 pounds at the time, denied doing so, saying he only placed his hands on Hyde's cuffed wrists.

In the end, Derrick will be left to decide what happened.

More importantly, her final report is expected to examine broader themes, including an assessment of how the health-care and criminal justice systems treat the mentally ill.

200 recommendations, 56 days of hearings

Aside from the confusion over psychiatric assessments, the inquiry heard from several witnesses who confirmed that police received very little training on how to recognize or deal with the mentally ill — even thought they typically deal with them every day.

"There really was a lack of training at that time," said Dan MacRury, the inquiry's lead counsel.

"This was a very tragic event. But it's an opportunity to make some positive changes into how the mentally ill are treated in our society." 

As well, at least one police officer testified that the mentally ill were not getting the help they need when there is a crisis.

Const. Kathryn Willet told the inquiry that when she tried to help people in the midst of psychotic episodes, they were sometimes turned away when seeking professional help.

In all, the nine parties with standing at the inquiry have provided Derrick with about 200 recommendations after 56 days of hearings.

"I can only say about this wealth of material that I have my work cut out for me," Derrick said Thursday.

The provincial court judge is expected to submit her report to the provincial government before the end of the year.

"The tragedy we have been excavating will leave its mark on each of us," she said. "The promise that I can make to the memory of Mr. Hyde is that I will, to the best of my ability, endeavour to do justice in my final report to the issues his story has revealed to us."

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