HALIFAX, N.S. – Several corrections officers hunched over the seemingly lifeless body of Howard Hyde moments after they forced the mentally ill man down to the ground during a brief struggle two years ago, an inquiry into his death saw Friday.
The chilling scene played out on a grainy video taken on Nov. 22, 2007 at a Nova Scotia correctional facility, where the paranoid schizophrenic was being held on a charge of assault.
Only Hyde’s legs, motionless and clad in dark prison pants, can be seen in the foreground of the scratchy video as about three officers try to restrain the 45-year-old musician, who guards had described as delusional and non-sensical.
Cameron Lamond, an officer who led Hyde to a cramped, windowless cell, said he overheard one of his colleagues say blood was coming from the man’s mouth as he lay prone on the floor.
Lamond said health-care services and 911 were called shortly after.
Several minutes seem to elapse in the time from when Hyde becomes still and the health worker arrives in the cell as other guards stand by, wiping their brows.
Hyde, who had long suffered from schizophrenia, had been off his medications for more than a week at the time. He was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.
The silent video shows another guard minutes earlier trying to get Hyde to walk down a long corridor to get ready for a court appearance.
When Hyde doesn’t budge, a second officer appears and within seconds, they bring down Hyde and cuff his hands behind his back as he twice cries out that he is an innocent man.
The inquiry has heard evidence that Hyde continued to struggle and was again forced to the floor in the cell where he blacked out and never regained consciousness.
A coroner later listed the cause of death as excited delirium stemming from paranoid schizophrenia.
Hyde had been up through the night, endlessly pacing his cell, after being brought to the centre from court and the Halifax police station, where he had been Tasered during a struggle there, the inquiry has heard.
Another guard testified earlier that before the first scuffle, Hyde shouted that he didn’t want to enter the hallway because there were “demons” there.
Lamond, referring to a statement he gave police days after the incident, said Hyde was “non-sensical” as about nine guards led him backwards to the cell.
“He was making inappropriate statements,” Lamond said.
Lamond then read from his police statement, saying Hyde cried, “‘I’m an innocent man, I’m an innocent man’ and ‘You can’t do this to me.”‘
But despite the recognition among some correctional workers that Hyde could be suffering a mental health crisis, he did not receive any psychiatric treatment at the facility.
The inquiry heard Friday that a shift change notification indicated that “Howard Hyde seems out of his marbles. He keeps talking and shouting to himself and pacing in the cell. Need to be checked on.”
Corrections officer Algeron Smith began work after that notation was made for the early shift, but testified that he did not read it. He said pacing was not unusual, suggesting Hyde’s behaviour didn’t indicate a need for special care.
Kevin MacDonald, a lawyer representing Hyde’s family, disagreed.
“These are all indicators there was a problem and it is our view that he should have been seen and I fail to understand why that did not happen,” MacDonald said.
“He was exhibiting signs right up when he was put into that holding room where we say he ultimately died.”
Lamond also said during the first hallway scuffle, he put his body weight on Hyde’s legs to control him.
MacDonald said Hyde appeared to be on his stomach in the cell and alleges that could have caused breathing difficulties.
“There was weight to his back and his legs and shoulders and we believe his breathing would have been restricted,” he said outside the court.
The inquiry, which started in July, is trying to determine why Hyde never received the psychiatric help he needed and what can be done to prevent similar deaths in the future.
Hyde’s case has attracted national attention largely because his death came 30 hours after he was Tasered up to five times as he tried to escape a police station in downtown Halifax.