News / Halifax

Halifax guard cleared of criminal wrongdoing in jail death still broke policy: SIRT

Jail policy says guards must ensure prisoners can be woken and respond to questions every 15 minutes, which wasn't done

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Metro file

The Halifax Regional Police logo

The Serious Incident Response Team (SIRT) has cleared a Halifax guard of criminal wrongdoing in a jail death, but says policy that could have detected something was wrong wasn't followed.

In the case of a 52-year-old man who was found unresponsive in a Halifax Regional Police cell in September 2013 and died three days later of a brain bleed, SIRT said the guard shouldn’t be charged.

“He was following a practice that many do (and) let them ‘sleep it off,’ ” SIRT director Ron MacDonald said Wednesday.

The man had a history of alcoholism and was known to police for public intoxication, SIRT said. He was brought in Sept. 5 around noon after falling on a dirt path near Sylvia Avenue in Spryfield.

The report said a witness later told SIRT he may have hit his head on rocks, but police weren’t aware of that at the time.

Police policy stated guards must check prisoners every 15 minutes with a “rousability” chart that requires waking them and asking simple questions, which the report said wasn’t done.

Although the guard looked in on the man every 15 minutes, it was only until another guard tried to wake him around 6 p.m. that they realized he was unresponsive and paramedics were called.

The report said the officer was also alone on duty at the time, and while he knew the man was intoxicated “he had frequently been in cells before while he slept and became sober enough to be released.”

“Was it perfect behavior? No, but was it the type of behavior that rose to the level of him having comitted a criminal act? No,” MacDonald said.

The report took more than two years to complete as SIRT had to obtain opinions from the Medical Examiner, two neurologists, and the Public Prosecution Service, MacDonald said.

The experts said while earlier detection might have allowed for treatment of the brain injury, when the man was put in the cell there was nothing clearly alerting police to a medical issue - and it’s still “not certain” whether his death would have been prevented by an intervention.

Alcoholics can suffer a brain bleed with a low blow to the head, the report said.

Halifax Regional Police spokeswoman Const. Dianne Woodworth said in an email Wednesday the force conducted a prisoner care audit in 2014 that led to an “enhanced model of care” for all prisoners, but especially those deemed at-risk.

Police could not provide any specific details on the changes.

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