Nova Scotia

Two special constables found guilty of criminal negligence in Halifax jail death

A Halifax jury found Dan Fraser and Cheryl Gardner guilty of criminal negligence causing death relating to the 2016 death of Corey Rogers.

Dan Fraser and Cheryl Gardner guilty of criminal negligence causing death

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

After three days of deliberation, a Halifax jury has found two special constables guilty of criminal negligence causing death in the Nova Scotia Supreme Court case of Corey Rogers, a man who died in a Halifax jail cell in 2016.

The guilty verdict for Dan Fraser and Cheryl Gardner was reached unanimously. 

Rogers, 41, was arrested for public intoxication the night of June 15, 2016, and was brought to a jail cell at police headquarters to sleep it off.

During the nearly two-week trial, the jury heard that Rogers spat on the arresting officers during the drive to the police station that night, so the officers placed a spit hood — a fabric mask that covers the lower half of a person's face — on him.

The spit hood was not removed, and Rogers died of asphyxiation, choking on his own vomit in the jail cell.

During the trial, Gardner and Fraser testified they never received training on the use of spit hoods and lacked the resources in the booking area to carry out the requirement to rouse an intoxicated person every 15 minutes to make sure they are OK.

Special constables in Nova Scotia are not police officers. They are civilians appointed to specialized duties, including the booking of prisoners.

The Crown argued Fraser and Gardner failed to fulfil their duty to care for Rogers, did not perform required checks and entered some checks in a logbook that were never performed.

Mother 'over the moon' with verdict

Jeannette Rogers, Corey Rogers's mother, told CBC News outside court the trial "has been hell." She said that she wants a ban on spit hoods and that she plans to seek a provincial inquiry.

She said she wants Gardner and Fraser to serve some jail time.

"I mean, they've taken my son's life and we'll never have him again," Rogers said.

Rogers said Corey was her oldest child. She said he was an alcoholic and he could get nasty when he was drinking.

But she said in all his 41 years she never saw him spit at anyone.

"I've seen him very angry, I've seen him very drunk, I've seen him a combination of the two. But never once have I seen him spit at anyone," she said.

Corey Rogers's mother, Jeannette, spoke with reporters after the verdict was delivered on Sunday. (Brooklyn Currie/CBC)

Rogers said Corey was the kind of person who would give the shirt off his back when he was sober. She said when she went through a liver transplant seven years ago, Corey took care of her.

"Corey was my caregiver both before and after the transplant and he did such a wonderful job," she said. "I never would have been able to go through it if it weren't for Corey."

Rogers said she was relieved by the verdict and that the trial is finally over.

"Oh my God, thank God. It's been a long, long road. But at least now we're where we finally need to be. I'm over the moon with the verdict," she said.

Rogers said: "I know nothing will bring Corey back, but I know he's watching over me and saying, 'Thank you, mom.'"

Police release statement

After the verdict was delivered, Halifax Regional Police issued a press release saying the department has been "paying close attention to this trial."

"And we will review the court's decision and determine next steps," Sgt. Michael Cheeseman said.

"Our of respect for the court process, and as this matter remains the subject of ongoing processes, it would be inappropriate to further comment on the decision."

Gardner and Fraser will be sentenced on Feb. 14, 2020. Justice Kevin Coady anticipates sentencing will take one day.

The judge also ordered pre-sentence reports.

Sentences for criminal negligence causing death can range from no time behind bars to life in prison.

Crown attorney Chris Vanderhooft said he will wait until he sees the pre-sentence report before he makes a recommendation.

Defence lawyers for Gardner and Fraser declined comment.

With files from Brooklyn Currie