Special constables found guilty in Halifax jail-cell death case
HALIFAX -- After deliberating for 15 hours over three days, a jury has found special constables Cheryl Gardner and Daniel Fraser guilty of criminal negligence causing death in connection with the jail-cell death of Corey Rogers.
The news was long overdue for Rogers' mother, Jeannette, who embraced her sister after hearing the verdict.
“Over the moon.” said Jeannette Rogers, shortly after the verdict was reached. “I was afraid that it might end up being a hung jury and that we’d have a re-trial and I thought, ‘oh God, will I have to go through this again’, but thank God I don’t.”
Gardner and Fraser were working as booking officers on June 15, 2016.
That night, Corey Rogers tried to visit his newborn baby at the IWK Health Centre, but was turned away because he was intoxicated.
The 41-year-old man was arrested outside the hospital and a spit hood was placed on him.
He was taken to the Halifax Regional Police station and placed in a jail cell.
Rogers was found dead a few hours later, when he suffocated after vomiting, with the spit hood on.
Gardner and Fraser both pleaded not guilty to criminal negligence causing death and have spent the last two weeks on trial.
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 Crown had argued the constables failed to properly check Rogers' cell while he lay there with a spit hood covering his face.
A medical examiner's report stated that Rogers' died from asphyxiation after apparently vomiting into the spit hood, which is a mask used to prevent prisoners from spitting on guards.
The defence had said the constables followed the usual procedures and had believed Rogers was asleep rather than unconscious.
The Crown, however, told the jury there were policies in place for booking officers that required them to check prisoners every 15 minutes -- something they failed to properly do.
Ultimately, the jury sided with the Crown, and decided to find both Gardner and Fraser guilty.
"The maximum avaialble sentence is life in prison. We're certainly not seeking that," said Crown Attorney Chris Vanderhooft. "There's no minimum sentence prescribed by law for this offence, so we'll determine what sentence we're going to seek once we get the pre-sentence report, and once we've done the research."
The defence did not comment following the verdict.
In a statement, Halifax Regional Police said:
"Halifax Regional Police has been paying close attention to this trial, and we will review the court's decision and determine the 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. Our deepest sympathies go out to Mr. Rogers' family and to everyone touched by this tragic incident."
A sentencing hearing has been set for Feb. 14 for Gardner and Fraser.
Jeannette Rogers says she is relieved with the verdict and thankful for all the support she has received.
“I know nothing will bring Corey back but I think he’s watching over me and saying ‘thank you Mom’," says Rogers.
Rogers also says her fight isn't over yet. She plans to continue to fight to get rid of spit hoods, a device she says there is no need for. She also plans to push for a public inquiry into her son’s death.