Saturday, December 11, 2010

Hyde report: Call to action

An editorial published in the December 10th edition of The Chronicle Herald:
In Judge Anne Derrick, Howard Hyde finally has an advocate who sees the bigger pic­ture. Sadly, proper perspective is the very thing he desperately needed from someone — anyone — the day he died three years ago.

That much is obvious from reading Judge Derrick’s findings into the chain of events that led to the death of this emotionally disturbed man. But those who comb through the inquiry report looking to pin blame will be disappoint­ed. Howard Hyde — who suffered from schizo­phrenia, was off his medications and experi­encing psychosis — was not a victim of in­competence. He was a victim of incoherence.

During every step of his odyssey in police, medical, court and correctional custody, Mr. Hyde came across professionals acting profes­sionally. Even the most controversial and publi­cized episode — which led to Mr. Hyde’s mul­tiple Tasering at a Dartmouth police station — is not a slam-dunk of police misbehaviour.

Judge Derrick notes that the booking officer who produced a tool with which to cut the lace on Mr. Hyde’s shorts before putting him in a cell did not mean to provoke or panic him.

“S/Cst. MacCormick uttered the words: ‘We’ll have to cut one of those balls off’ innocently, with no appreciation of the effect they would have on Mr. Hyde," she wrote.

Judge Derrick makes it clear that the Taser­ing did not cause Mr. Hyde’s death. Nor did he die of schizophrenia, as the medical examiner unhelpfully concluded. He did die some 30 hours later as a result of a struggle with Burn­side jail correctional officers whose use of force, and of a restraint hold, she determined to be “reasonable and proportionate."

Ultimately, the real problem was not the performance of Mr. Hyde’s custodians per se, but crucial omissions cascading through the chain of custody. From the moment he was first picked up by police on a domestic abuse com­plaint, a pattern developed whereby relevant facts weren’t passed along. Legal and medical professionals got their wires crossed, made incorrect assumptions, acted on incomplete information. Cops were unaware of mental health resources available to them and guards didn’t know how to de-escalate confrontations with the emotionally disturbed.

Clearly, the province must begin by training its sights on retraining front-line staff.


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