A Crown attorney argued Monday that the failure of two special constables to follow basic safety steps led to the “entirely preventable death” of an intoxicated man in a barren Halifax police cell in 2016.
In his opening statement, prosecutor Chris Vanderhooft told the jury in Nova Scotia Supreme Court that Daniel Fraser and Cheryl Gardner failed to fulfil their duty to care for Corey Rogers when he was brought to the Halifax police station.
Charges of criminal negligence causing death were laid against the special constables by the Serious Incident Response Team – the province’s independent police watchdog – 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.
Vanderhooft, a Manitoba prosecutor brought in for the case, said the booking officers’ treatment of the 41-year-old leading up to his death early on June 16, 2016, meets this definition.
“They should have had him medically checked before he was admitted,” the attorney told the jurors.
The special constables also should have removed a spit hood, a mesh device placed over a prisoners’ face to stop them from spitting on officers, said Vanderhooft.
“They should have done regular checks on him and made sure he was responding and safe.”
Instead, the prosecutor alleged Rogers died because he was left alone, intoxicated, face down in a cell with his spit hood on.
“The last time that Corey Rogers moved was between 11:38 and 11:41 p.m. (on June 15). It wasn’t until 1:39 a.m. (June 16) that Fraser called out to Corey and finally decided to enter the cell,” the prosecutor alleged.
“The first thing he did was remove the spit hood which had been on him … for two hours. Unfortunately it was too late. Corey had vomited long before and could not clear his own airway because the spit hood was covering his mouth.”
The prosecutor told jurors they would have to watch video showing Rogers’ time in the cell, and he warned them, “It won’t be easy.”
Court heard that on the night before he died, Rogers was arrested under the Liquor Control Act around 10:30 p.m. outside the IWK Health Centre, a children’s hospital in the city’s south end.
According to the Crown’s opening statement, Rogers was there because his wife Emilie Spindler had given birth to their child the day before.
Spindler, the Crown’s first witness, 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.
Spindler testified that her partner argued with security staff at the hospital and she took him outside to calm him down.
She said he quickly “chugged” a pint of Fireball whiskey after police arrived at the scene. She said he argued with officers, who handcuffed him, placed him in a police vehicle and took him into the station.
Spindler said she wasn’t overly concerned at the time, as her partner had been arrested before for being intoxicated in a public place and had returned home safely.
She said she expected to see him the next day.
But about three hours later, paramedics were called to the cells when Rogers was found unresponsive.
Ron Johnston, a friend of Rogers, testified that he saw him the evening of his arrest, helping him pick up a crib for his new baby and dropping him off near the hospital.
“He was so happy. He kept saying he had a second chance…. He was so excited by this baby. He was over the moon,” said Johnston.
The trial was expected to continue Tuesday morning with the Crown calling staff and security from the children’s hospital.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 28, 2019.