One of the officers who arrested Corey Rogers the night he died testified Tuesday that although Rogers was intoxicated and needed to be dragged into his cell, he didn’t think the 41-year-old needed medical attention.
Const. Justin Murphy took the stand at a hearing of the Police Review Board into Rogers’ June 2016 death in Halifax Regional Police cells, being held in Dartmouth this week and next.
Murphy and two other officers, constables Ryan Morris and Donna Lee Paris, arrested Rogers outside the IWK in Halifax following the birth of his child. Rogers was intoxicated, and the officers brought him to the cells at HRP headquarters on Gottingen, commonly known as the drunk tank. The officers placed a spit hood on Rogers’ head before bringing him into cells, and left it on once inside. Later that night, Rogers vomited into the spit hood, asphyxiated, and died.
The three officers are the subject of a Police Review Board hearing stemming from a complaint from Rogers’ mother, Jeannette Rogers. Through her lawyers, Rogers alleges the officers breached three sections of the code of conduct in the provincial Police Act Regulations, including “neglecting or lacking concern for the health or safety of a person in the member’s custody.”
During the hearing on Tuesday, Murphy testified that he arrived on the scene with Paris after Morris was already there, at 10:43pm. The call came in about 10 minutes earlier, from staff at the hospital claiming a man was belligerent and threatening.
When he arrived, Murphy said he saw Morris talking to Rogers and his partner, and observed that Rogers was “carefree” and “talkative.” He described Rogers’ balance as “unsure” — he wasn’t falling down, but he was swaying, clearly intoxicated. Murphy, who testified this is his 17th year with HRP, said he never saw Rogers drink any alcohol.
Murphy said Rogers was smoking a cigarette when Murphy arrived, and he said his partner said he should go to the drunk tank. Murphy said Rogers initially agreed, but wanted to smoke another cigarette first.
Murphy said Morris told Rogers he couldn’t have another cigarette, that they had to go because he’d been outside the IWK too long.
At that point, Rogers didn’t want to go with the officers, and started exhibiting what Murphy described as “passive noncompliance.” That means he wasn’t trying to hit the officers, but he wouldn’t put his hands behind his back and comply with arrest either.
The officers eventually got a pair of handcuffs onto Rogers’ wrists and Murphy forced him into Morris’ cruiser.
Paris and Murphy drove in their car and Morris in his back to police headquarters. On the way, Murphy said Morris radioed into dispatch to say Rogers was banging his head against the Plexiglass barrier in the back seat.
Once they’d all arrived, Murphy called into booking to ask if they could come in. Special Const. Cheryl Gardner, who was one of the booking officers on duty that night, along with Special Const. Daniel Fraser, told Murphy they’d have to wait some time because there was a young person being booked first.
In the meantime, Murphy said Rogers was emotional, and the three officers observed mucus and tears on Rogers and on the Plexiglass barrier in the police vehicle. Murphy testified he didn’t see any injuries on Rogers at any time, nor did he ever appear unconscious.
Due to the bodily fluids on Rogers and inside the police vehicle, Murphy said Paris decided they should use a spit hood, and he agreed.
Murphy said he went inside to get a spit hood. He said he didn’t remove the package. The hood was already unpackaged to make it ready for use, Murphy said.
The package, as covered in Monday’s sitting of the hearing, has a clearly printed warning that misuse of the spit hood can cause death, and on the back, has instructions, or conditions, for use.
Murphy testified he didn’t know, prior to Rogers’ death, that there was a warning printed on the packages, nor had he ever read the instructions.
After unrolling the spit hood to make it ready to use, Murphy said he placed it on a police vehicle that was parked next to Morris’ outside the booking area.
The officers placed the spit hood over Rogers’ face and then pulled him out of Morris’ cruiser, Murphy said. Once he was out of the vehicle, Murphy said the officers tried to get Rogers to stand on his own, but he wouldn’t.
The three officers eventually carried him into the building. Murphy said Paris was holding onto Rogers’ shoulder, Morris had his legs, and he had him by the belt.
Once inside, Murphy said the officers removed Rogers’ shoes and completed the booking process, and then brought him into a cell, still handcuffed, and with the spit hood still on.
Inside the cell, Murphy swung Rogers to the ground while Paris used a hold to keep his legs from kicking. The officers removed removed his handcuffs, and then his hoodie, which had a string in the hood.
With the door locked, Murphy then threw Rogers’ shoes into the cell. On video, it appears the shoes hit Rogers in the head. Murphy testified they hit the back wall of the cell and then fell down beside his head.
The officers then left him in the cell, the spit hood still over his head. Asked by his lawyer, Brian Bailey, whether he’d ever removed a spit hood from a prisoner, Murphy said he had not, and he’d never seen another officer remove one either.
It would defeat the purpose of the hood (keeping the officer safe) to remove it, Murphy said, and people usually take them off themselves once handcuffs are removed.
Murphy said he went back to the booking officers and told them he didn’t think Rogers needed to be checked by a paramedic, as he’d just been standing and talking outside the IWK, but he’d call EHS if the officers thought he needed to be checked out.
Asked whether he had any reasons to call EHS, Murphy said, “I had none or I would’ve.”
A booking officer Murphy had previously had more contact with, Special Const. Stephan Longtin, who testified at the hearing on Monday, would typically have called EHS for anyone who didn’t walk into the cell themselves, Murphy said.
It wasn’t common for people to be dragged into cells without walking on their own, Murphy said, and he estimated he’d done it 10 to 20 times in his time as an officer.
Murphy said he believed Rogers could walk, but was choosing not to do so to make it more difficult for the officers to get him into the cell.
“It was sort of his show of protest,” Murphy said.
Earlier on Tuesday, the board heard from Sgt. Dennis Crowell, who’s in charge of training for HRP, and Const. Kyle Muir, who trains HRP officers.
Crowell watched the videos of the officers carrying Rogers into HRP headquarters and placing him in the cell, and said all their use of force was “consistent” with HRP policy and training.
“All of the techniques I observed there are standard techniques that I would teach in our training,” he said.
Muir’s testimony was similar to Crowell’s.
Crowell said he’s been the training officer since 2015, and HRP has never provided training on spit hoods in that time.
In fact, Crowell said he’d never even seen a spit hood in person until the hearing, where one entered as an exhibit was on the table in front of him.
HPR implemented a new policy on spit hoods, mandating that they only be used in cells, among other requirements, in late 2019 as a result of Rogers’ death. As the Halifax Examiner reported in August 2020, HRP is still using spit hoods. In response to a Freedom of Information request, HRP said they were used 18 times between December 2019 and June 2020.
The hearing continues Wednesday and Thursday, and is scheduled to sit next week as well.
Lawyers for Jeannette Rogers are expected to cross-examine Murphy starting Wednesday.
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