HALIFAX — A police review board that looked into a 2016 jail cell death has concluded it is "very concerning" the Halifax police didn't train its officers on the use of spit hoods.
Forty-one-year-old Corey Rogers died of suffocation overnight on June 15, 2016 while lying face down in a cell with the spit hood left on him by three officers.
A spit hood is a mesh device used to block spit and other body fluids.
In its decision dated Nov. 29, the board upheld some internal findings that Constables Justin Murphy and Donna Lee Paris had committed misconduct, deciding they both failed to ensure the health and safety of their intoxicated prisoner, in part due to their leaving the hood on him in the jail cell.
It also found Const. Murphy had shown "discreditable conduct" when he threw Rogers' shoes into the lockup cell as the arrested man lay sprawled on the floor.
However, it cleared another officer, Const. Ryan Morris, of failing to ensure Rogers' health and safety, citing the young officer's "inexperience" with the spit hoods.
In the concluding pages, the board says, "it is very concerning as to why Halifax Regional Police, the chief or the training division didn't provide officers with training in the placing on and removal of spit hoods by police officers."
The review board heard the case after Rogers' mother, Jeannette Rogers, appealed a number of the internal police disciplinary findings and sought strong penalties against the constables.
However, the board reversed earlier internal police findings that the actions of Paris and Morris had behaved in a "discreditable" way in how they treated their prisoner.
It also concluded that Morris's comments in the police station that Rogers was a "f---ing dummy," along with other disparaging comments, occurred when he was frustrated and didn't constitute breaches of discipline, though they were "most unprofessional."
It further concluded the officers didn't use unnecessary force on their prisoner, noting Paris had been careful when she placed the hood on Rogers' head, he was handled properly in the cell by the officers and the use of the spit hood was "necessary to protect officers from the spitting and bile being spewed by Mr. Rogers."
But in broader comments about the incident, the board said it was "very interesting" nothing was done about the use of or training on spit hoods until after the death of Rogers.
"From the evidence it has become clear that not all officers are provided with the use of spit hood training as of the date of this hearing," the board wrote. The formal hearings concluded in late September.
The board also said it was concerned to learn from testimony that the officers are inundated by emails when they report to work, including a number that relate to policies.
"One wonders how one could ever get a chance to read all these emails and yet get out right away and do their duties as directed at the start of their shift," said the review decision.
The board commented that "a resolution might be that their superior officer advises them (officers) of important emails at the opening of their shift when he/she addresses them," and that they should be given time to read the emails.
The three-person board, which was chaired by Simon MacDonald, says the next stage in the hearing will be to hear arguments on potential penalties after all the parties sends written arguments over the next two months.
Jason Cooke, the lawyer for the Rogers family, had argued before the board that the officers should have realized when Rogers was arrested that he was highly intoxicated and it would be risky to leave him alone in a cell wearing a head covering.
The lawyer said in an interview Wednesday that he had not heard anything from the Halifax police on what if any reforms planned in response to the report's findings. "I think it should remain a concern for everyone until we hear if and how the Halifax police are addressing it," he said.
The lawyer said he has a hard time understanding why the board found Morris's comments about Rogers to be "most unprofessional" but not a case of misconduct.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 22, 2021.
The Canadian Press