Corey Rogers’ mother asked for “the strictest penalty possible” and the Crown wants the special constables responsible for his death to be incarcerated for two years each, but the civilian booking officers’ defence lawyers are asking the judge for no prison time at all.
Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Kevin Coady heard those competing arguments from lawyers on Wednesday, along with victim impact statements from Rogers’ mother and others, in a sentencing hearing for Dan Fraser and Cheryl Gardner. Coady reserved his decision until Monday afternoon.
Fraser and Gardner were the booking officers on duty when Rogers, 41, was arrested for public intoxication outside a children’s hospital following the birth of his daughter in June 2016. Rogers was taken into cells at Halifax Regional Police (HRP) headquarters on Gottingen Street.
The arresting officers placed a spit hood, designed to protect officers, over Rogers’ head before bringing him into cells. Fraser and Gardner left Rogers in his cell with the spit hood on for two hours. They were supposed to check on him, and rouse him, every 15 minutes.
Rogers vomited into the spit hood and asphyxiated.
A jury found Fraser and Gardner guilty of criminal negligence causing death in November 2019.
Their sentencing hearing was originally scheduled for February, but was delayed to May and then, due to COVID-19, delayed again until now. The two special constables have been suspended with pay since their conviction, and under their collective agreement, Halifax Regional Municipality pays their legal fees.
Crown attorney Chris Vanderhooft, brought in from Manitoba to handle the case due to the local Crown’s possible conflict of interest, argued Wednesday morning in his oral submissions that Fraser and Gardner need to be incarcerated to act as a deterrent against this kind of behaviour by police officers.
Vanderhooft argued Fraser and Gardner had a duty of care to protect Rogers and should’ve asked for medical assistance when Rogers came in so drunk he couldn’t speak or move.
“It’s a matter of common sense,” Vanderhooft said. “If the man is unconscious or in a state of reduced awareness and wearing a spit hood and you can’t make sense of whether he’s able to talk, open his eyes, speak or do anything else, it’s common sense. Get him medical attention and do something about it.”
Coady asked Vanderhooft to address the idea that Fraser and Gardner were “low-hanging fruit,” taking the blame for the actions of their superiors or the sworn officers who brought Rogers to cells that night.
In deciding their sentence, the civilian special constables should be held to the same standard as sworn police officers, Vanderhooft argued.
“In this case, counsel have argued that these people aren’t police officers. The low-hanging fruit argument. ‘They’re special constables and that’s different.’ Well, with respect, if there’s a difference between special constables and police officers, that difference is not one that should significantly change any sentence invoked,” he said.
Following Vanderhooft’s arguments, Coady heard victim impact statements from Rogers’ brother, the mother of his daughter, and his mother.
Collin Rogers, Corey’s brother, wrote in part:
I am glad to have the opportunity to speak here today of my brother, Corey James Leslie Rogers, to lend voice to his life; his story, his legacy. From his sudden preventable passing, throughout all of these proceedings, my family and I are most thankful for our relatives and close friends, who have been ever supportive and bouyant to our spirits.
I count myself one of the luckiest people to have been able to spend time growing alongside this brilliant, funny, thoughtful and truly kind person. We do not understand what life is now without him in our world. We do not understand how he has gone; and, we are broken – how can this be real?
He was some of my mother’s finest work; a list of adjectives do not do him justice.
Collin Rogers also submitted a poem, The Second Coming:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre,
The Falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart;
The centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed,
And everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction,
While the worst are full of passionate intensity…
Surely, some revelation is at hand…
Emilie Spindler, the mother of Corey’s daughter, wrote:
Up until my current partner, I’ve had a tough time maintaining a relationship with another. My daughter now does not have her father because of this; and doesn’t understand what’s going on.
Because of this, my daughter’s father is unable to help provide for her.
And Jeannette Rogers, Corey’s mother, wrote and read to the court, in part:
Try to imagine living the rest of your life without one of your children. If you can imagine that then you have a small idea of what I go through every single day without Corey. I have been given a life sentence.
If you could take just one day, hour, or even minute of my grief, I would gladly exchange it for whatever your sentence will be. I wake up every morning to the reality that I will be grieving for the rest of my life.
Yes, Corey was an alcoholic, but that is an illness, not a crime. To the system, Corey was nothing more than a drunk and a nuisance, but to those of us who knew and loved him, he was so much more. He was a son, a brother, a father and a partner. Corey was very intelligent and spent much of his time reading. He also enjoyed playing chess and was very good at it. Corey was most often a loving, caring individual who would give the shirt off his back to those in need. Corey had a wonderful sense of humour and he also loved to sing along with any music that was playing. He was a very integral part of our lives.
Jeannette Rogers’ also submitted a letter to her son:
My Dear Corey,
I loved you the minute you were born. Then I saw your face and I fell in love some more. You were only a minute old, but I knew I would die for you and to this day I still would. When I chose to have you I made a conscious decision to let my heart walk outside my body. It’s unnatural and so very unfair when your heart dies before you do. There is a cord that connects us, even now. It’s not a cord anyone can see, nor is it like the cord that connected us before you were born; it bonds us together heart to heart. No one can break this cord. My heart cries out for you, but you’re not there. What a tragic privilege to have had you and lost you.
I miss your laughter. I miss your smile. I miss the sound of your voice. I miss our talks. I miss you every moment of every day and will do so until I take my last breath.
In life you had your struggles, but, while you were alive there was always the hope that things would work out for you. Now my only hope is that you rest in peace.
You need to know how much you were and are loved and missed every day by so many.
Rest in peace now, my son, in the knowledge that you will live forever in my heart.
Love & Sunshine,
After reading the letter, she said:
Because of Corey’s untimely death due to the negligence of Cheryl Gardner and Dan Fraser, I didn’t even get to say good-bye and tell him just how very much I love him. I ask the court to impose the strictest penalty possible, because living every day without my son is a life sentence with no possibility of parole.
Defence lawyers for Gardner and Fraser argued a suspended sentence — with conditions including community service and counselling — would be sufficient.
Ron Pizzo made submissions on behalf of Gardner. Pizzo argued Gardner, 48, was highly regarded as a good employee for HRP, where she worked since 2010, pointing to multiple letters of support as evidence.
Since her conviction, Gardner has been depressed, Pizzo said. She’s withdrawn from friends and isolated at home, scared of the thought of jail time.
Responding to Vanderhooft’s argument that jail time was necessary to deter future booking officers from behaving as Fraser and Gardner did, Pizzo argued the shame of a conviction was enough.
Pizzo argued it is“manifestly unfair” to hold Fraser and Gardner to the same standard as sworn officers when they didn’t have the proper training, tools or support to make the decision that Rogers should be sent to the hospital.
Pizzo argued Gardner did the same kinds of checks they always did — calling someone’s name and getting a response. The policy calls for a “four Rs” check — rousability, response to questions, response to commands, and remember to take into account the possibility of other illness or injury.
Gardner had always completed just the response to questions, and HRP never reprimanded her, Pizzo argued.
Defence lawyer David Bright similarly argued that Fraser, 63, is a good booking officer and a good person, pointing to letters of support. Fraser has been diagnosed with depression and PTSD, Bright said.
Bright argued the booking officers cannot be held to the same standard as sworn police officers because they don’t get near the same kind of training. He said Fraser and Gardner had no training in the four Rs, which were posted on the wall in cells, or spit hoods, which have directions on them.
“Just because they’re a peace officer doesn’t mean automatic jail,” Bright said.
Following defence arguments, Fraser and Gardner were given an opportunity to address the court.
I just wanted to express how deeply sorry I am of how this has affected the family. And to say if I knew then what I know now, things would have been different.
I’d like to start by telling Ms. Rogers how sorry I am for her loss. I’m deeply sorry if anything I’ve said during this trial or anything that came out of my pre-sentencing report has led you to believe that I’m not sorry for your loss.
I had known Corey through my job for a long time. I had nothing against him. He was very agreeable whenever he would leave in the mornings. I’m sorry for what happened.
When I made the comments during my pre-sentencing report that I did nothing wrong, what I meant at that time was, knowing what I knew that night, with my training, with my experience, I can’t think of anything I would’ve done differently. In hindsight, of course, I went back and see things that could’ve been done differently. But with what I knew that night, I can’t think of any other way I could’ve handled it. And I wanted Ms. Rogers to know how sorry I am for her loss.
As the Halifax Examiner reported last week, spit hoods are still being used in HRP cells — at least 18 times since Fraser and Gardner’s conviction. We don’t know the full extent of their use, or whether they’re being placed on prisoners more or less than in previous years.
New police policies, implemented since Rogers’ death, mean spit hoods can only be used in cells by officers trained in their use. Prisoners are now required to be monitored constantly when they’re wearing one.
Coady will deliver his oral decision at 1:30p.m. on Monday.
The Halifax Examiner is an advertising-free, subscriber-supported news site. Your subscription makes this work possible; please subscribe.
Some people have asked that we additionally allow for one-time donations from readers, so we’ve created that opportunity, via the PayPal button below. We also accept e-transfers, cheques, and donations with your credit card; please contact iris “at” halifaxexaminer “dot” ca for details.