Officer says she noticed nothing unusual with man who died in Halifax jail cell
Keith Doucette, THE CANADIAN PRESS
Published Wednesday, November 6, 2019 2:31PM AST
Last Updated Wednesday, November 6, 2019 8:15PM AST
HALIFAX -- A special constable facing criminal charges in an inmate's death testified she didn't notice anything unusual about the prisoner as she checked on him in his cell.
Const. Cheryl Gardner told a 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 unco-operative with the arresting officers.
Gardner and Const. Daniel Fraser are on trial in Nova Scotia Supreme Court for criminal negligence causing the death of Rogers on June 16, 2016.
"There was nothing out of the ordinary that I hadn't experienced with him (Rogers) before," Gardner said.
Rogers had been carried into booking by the arresting officers who laid him on the floor at about 11 p.m. on June 15. The Halifax resident was in custody for being drunk in a public place after he rapidly downed a half bottle of whisky outside a children's hospital the day after his child was born.
Gardner, 47, said she observed that he was responding to questions from the officers, saying "no," he didn't want to co-operate.
During processing, she said, she tried to fill out a form with medical questions. "I had called his name to start asking the questions and an officer commented, 'He's not going to answer you,' " Gardner said.
As a result, she said for the first seven questions she filled in "Too intoxicated to answer" and for question eight she wrote "No visible signs of injury or medical distress."
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.
She said she looked in on Rogers several times while he was lying face down in a so-called "dry cell" and that on the first occasion he moaned and moved his shoulder in her direction.
"He was on his side and he had moaned and made a noise and moved his shoulder. Given he had been unco-operative I took that as he was acknowledging my presence there by calling his name."
However Gardner said she never entered the cell to check on him and assumed that he was just "sleeping it off" when he could be seen breathing but didn't respond to her later questions.
In cross-examination, Crown prosecutor Chris Vanderhooft pressed Gardner on why she didn't try to get the answers to the medical questionnaire later that night and why she didn't follow policy guidelines that require prisoners to be roused when there are potential concerns about their condition.
"Moaning noises and moving the shoulder is not the same as remaining awake after being aroused is it?" asked Vanderhooft.
"No," Gardner replied.
The jury has 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 said she had never read the instructions that come wrapped in the packaging for the spit hoods, which Vanderhooft pointed out clearly warns that their improper use could cause injury or death if the prisoner is left alone.
Both Gardner and Fraser, who testified Tuesday, have 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 has alleged the peace officers failed to follow those steps.
The Crown and defence are expected to give their final summations on Thursday with the judge expected to give his charge to the jury on Friday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 6, 2019.