Accused in Halifax prisoner death testifies he didn't do required checks

A Halifax Regional Police booking officer accused of criminal negligence in caring for a man who choked on vomit and died while in custody took the stand Tuesday in his own defence.

Corey Rogers died in a cell at Halifax police headquarters on the night of June 15, 2016. The booking officer responsible for checking on him every 15 minutes, as required by provincial policy, told the court he did not do those checks that night.

Two special constables, Dan Fraser and Cheryl Gardner, are charged with criminal negligence causing death in Rogers's case. Both were on duty the night when Rogers was brought into cells for public intoxication.

Rogers, 41, was a father of four when he died. His youngest child had just been born at the IWK hospital in Halifax and he was arrested by Halifax Regional Police officers outside the IWK after security guards deemed him too intoxicated to be allowed inside to see his newborn daughter.

Last week, an arresting officer testified he saw Rogers chug a half pint of Fireball Whiskey just before the arrest. The arresting officers also said Rogers spat at them while in the back of the police car, and because of that they placed a spit hood over his face.

Rogers died after vomiting inside the spit hood and asphyxiating while he was alone in a cell.

Not enough staff for 15-minute checks, says accused

Fraser took the stand Tuesday in Halifax at Nova Scotia Supreme Court. He said he was aware of the 2012 policy that intoxicated prisoners should be checked and roused every 15 minutes, but in his view, a lack of staffing in the booking area made that impossible.

The policy was instituted by ministerial order in 2012 after the 2009 death of Victoria Paul, a woman who died of a stroke while in the custody of Truro police for public intoxication.

Under cross-examination, Fraser told the court that because of the staffing issues, management had told him that he was only to do 15-minute checks on high-risk prisoners, and he felt Rogers didn't meet the criteria.

"We were doing the best that we could," Fraser said.

Based on the words of one of the arresting officers, Fraser judged that Rogers was "playing possum" and that calling paramedics was unnecessary.

'Something seemed off,' says Fraser

Fraser said he never tried to speak to Rogers or enter the cell to do the 15-minute checks, but under direct testimony he said he noticed that "something seemed off." 

Fraser said he called Rogers's name and got no response. He went in, kicked Rogers's foot and noticed the man did not move. Based on video evidence, this happened approximately two hours after Rogers was placed in the cell.

Fraser said until he entered the cell, he hadn't noticed that Rogers was still wearing the spit hood.

"It bothered me why I didn't notice the spit hood," he told the court while under cross-examination. 

Cross-examination continues Tuesday afternoon.