HALIFAX, N.S. - A Halifax police officer says he placed his right foot on the back of a struggling mentally ill man and kept it there until another officer trying to subdue the man said it appeared he stopped breathing.
Const. Christopher MacMahon told an inquiry Tuesday that he did not place any pressure on Howard Hyde's back with his foot as three other officers struggled to control him in a hallway off the station's booking room on Nov. 21, 2007.
MacMahon was the first officer to arrive in the hallway after one of the three officers struggling with Hyde issued a radio call for help.
When he came through the door into the hall, MacMahon said they were struggling with Hyde, who was on his back.
"It appeared to me he was kicking at the officers," he said.
Within seconds, MacMahon said, the three officers who were on the floor with Hyde flipped him onto his stomach.
He said he wanted to stop Hyde from getting up while also restraining him and stopping him from flipping over.
"I placed my right foot on his back should he flip over," he explained.
"I put it there as a precautionary measure should he roll over and try to resist."
After watching a video of the incident, MacMahon estimated he kept his foot on Hyde's back for 15 seconds.
Outside the hearing room, Kevin MacDonald, a lawyer for the Hyde family, said it would be reasonable to assume that Hyde was out of breath after struggling with three officers and any amount of weight placed on his torso could have affected his breathing.
"I believe that is significant," he said.
"Mr. Hyde had just been through quite a struggle and it wouldn't be unreasonable to say he was out of breath and any amount of weight on Mr. Hyde's torso when he's in the prone position, with hands cuffed behind his back and feet up towards his rear end - I think that is a significant issue."
Hyde, a 45-year-old musician who had suffered from schizophrenia for 20 years, was Tasered at least twice after struggling with police.
He was revived by CPR after he stopped breathing but he died 30 hours later following another struggle with corrections officers at the Dartmouth jail.
Nova Scotia's chief medical officer investigated Hyde's death and concluded it was not related to the use of a stun gun on him. He listed the cause of death as excited delirium due to paranoid schizophrenia in ruling the fatality as accidental.
On the night he was Tasered, Hyde had been arrested for an alleged assault of his common-law wife. The inquiry has heard she told police that Hyde was mentally ill and had not been taking his medications for weeks.
Hyde's struggle with police began after a special constable told him he had to use a serrated cutting tool to remove the string that was holding up his shorts.