HALIFAX, N.S. – A Halifax police superintendent told an inquiry looking into the death of Howard Hyde that officers would be more likely to put a mentally ill person through the court system than into hospital if the case involved a domestic assault.
Hyde, a 45-year-old man with a history of schizophrenia, died in a provincial jail on Nov. 22, 2007, 30 hours after being arrested and Tasered by Halifax police officers.
He had been picked up at his spouse’s apartment the day before after she called police to complain of a domestic assault.
Hyde was taken to hospital after he was Tasered but returned to the police station, charged and then transferred to jail.
Supt. Bill Moore, who oversees Halifax police policy on mental health issues, told the fatality inquiry on Thursday that officers are taught to treat domestic assaults as serious crimes.
He said he hadn’t interviewed the officers involved in Tasering or booking Hyde and had only looked at some of the documents involved in the case.
Moore said police often face problems in trying to protect victims of domestic assault.
Police use the Involuntary Psychiatric Treatment Act to force a mentally ill person arrested in such cases into hospital care. But Moore said there’s always a chance an accused could be released back into the community without time to implement measures to protect the victim.
“I would characterize domestic assault as a serious matter, and I would say that in those cases … officers would tend to take the court route,” he testified.
Moore said most officers believe that if a mentally ill person is put through the court system, there’s a strong chance a forensic psychiatric assessment will be ordered.
There would also be “conditions placed upon the accused party for no contact with the victim,” he said.
If a mentally ill person is left in hospital, it’s possible police won’t even be informed if the patient is released, Moore added.
“There is no followup loop and no requirement for the hospital to notify us when that person is to come out,” he said.
“There are some concerns about confidentiality to notifying the police. So, therefore, you could have a person back out with no conditions prohibiting contact with the victim.”
The police officer also said there aren’t secure hospital units in the province for mentally ill people who are awaiting a court appearance and haven’t gone through a forensic psychiatric assessment.
The lawyer for the inquiry, Dan MacRury, noted that it was possible a justice of the peace could be brought to the hospital for a bail hearing.
However, Moore said he had never heard of that happening in the case of a mentally ill patient.
Moore agreed there is “confusion” over the forms filled out by doctors when a patient is transferred from a hospital back into the custody of the police.
The inquiry heard two weeks ago that a doctor declared Hyde medically stable about seven hours after he was shocked with the stun gun.
Hyde was released into the custody of police so that he could be brought before a judge to face charges.
But Dr. Janet MacIntyre included instructions on a health transfer form that made it clear police were required to bring Hyde back to the hospital if he was not granted a psychiatric assessment.
Hyde never received the assessment and was transferred to the jail, where he died after a struggle with guards.
Moore said the health form’s instructions weren’t something that officers could necessarily carry out.
The use of the form is quite inconsistent, he said, and at times medical professionals decline to use it.
“There has been reluctance from different medical practitioners to have that form signed off. … There is no requirement for an outside party to sign off,” he said.
During his testimony, Moore said he felt it’s important to have more secure mental health crisis housing available.
He said if Hyde had been released by police under the condition he couldn’t return to his wife’s home, it begs the question of where he would have gone.
“If we released him on conditions not to go home again … what is the support system in place for that?”