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A Nova Scotia jury has ruled that two special constables are guilty of criminal negligence in the death of an impaired 41-year-old man who suffocated in a Halifax police jail cell.
The jury of eight men and four women found that Const. Daniel Fraser and Const. Cheryl Gardner caused the death of Corey Rogers on June 16, 2016.
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.
The verdict came on the third day of jury deliberations.
Jeannette Rogers, the mother of Corey Rogers, said she was thrilled with the verdict on Sunday.
“Oh my God, thank God,” said Rogers outside the courtroom, moments after the verdict. “It’s been a long, long road. But at least now we’re finally where we need to be.”
Corey Rogers was in custody for being drunk in a public place after he rapidly downed a 375-millilitre bottle of Fireball whisky outside a children’s hospital the day after his child was born.
He was carried into booking by the arresting officers who laid him on the floor at about 11 p.m. on June 15.
Const. Cheryl Gardner had told the jury that she had dealt with Corey Rogers previously and had seen through the booking process that Rogers was intoxicated and was wearing a spit hood over his mouth because he had been uncooperative with the arresting officers.
Gardner told the court that based on what she observed and was told by the officer, she determined that Rogers was fit to be taken to a cell.
The jury viewed video of Rogers heaving in the cell while wearing the spit hood, a mask that prevents prisoners from spitting on guards.
An autopsy found the inmate had vomited into the mask, and he died from suffocation.
Gardner testified she had never read the instructions that come wrapped in the packaging for the spit hoods.
Crown prosecutor Chris Vanderhooft pointed out that the packaging clearly warns the improper use of the hood could cause injury or death if the prisoner is left alone.
Both Gardner and Fraser said police booking officers lacked the resources to carry out so-called “Four R” observation checklist, which includes rousing the prisoner, checking their response to questions, assessing their response to commands and remembering to take into account the possibility of other illnesses.
The Crown alleged the peace officers failed to follow those steps.
The defence has said the constables followed the usual procedures and had believed Rogers was asleep rather than unconscious.
Halifax police to ‘review’ decision
The defence team didn’t offer a comment, but Vanderhooft said he wouldn’t speculate on what kind of sentence he expects the booking officers will receive but will instead wait for the sentence report.
“The maximum available sentence is life in prison, we’re certainly not going to be seeking that,” said Vanderhooft. “And there’s no minimum sentence prescribed by law for this offense so, we’ll determine once we get the presentence report and once we’ve done the research, what sentence we’re going to seek.”
Halifax Regional Police issued a statement shortly after the verdict was delivered saying they would “review the court’s decision and determine next steps.”
“Out 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.”
Sentencing has been scheduled for Feb. 14, 2020.
Fraser and Gardner remain out on conditions and were not taken into custody.
With files from The Canadian Press and Jesse Thomas