The mother of a man who died in police custody feels the officer who arrested her son got off too easy in a recent decision.
Corey Rogers, 41, choked to death after vomiting into a spit hood in cells at Halifax Regional Police headquarters in June 2016. He was arrested for public intoxication outside a children’s hospital following the birth of his daughter. Rogers’ mother, Jeannette Rogers, filed a complaint against the three officers who arrested and booked her son — constables Ryan Morris, Justin Murphy, and Donna Lee Paris.
An internal Halifax Regional Police investigation by Supt. Colleen Kelly found all of the three officers breached at least one section of the provincial code of conduct for police officers. Unsatisfied with that decision, Rogers appealed it to the Nova Scotia Police Review Board.
Over five days in June 2021, a three-member panel of the board heard testimony in the case, and lawyers for Rogers, the three officers, and the police force made closing arguments in September.
On November 29, the board released its decision, upholding most of the original disciplinary defaults and overturning one. The board cleared Morris, the officer who first encountered and arrested Rogers, of all wrongdoing.
The officer had originally been found to have committed a disciplinary default by “acting in a disorderly manner or in a manner that is reasonably likely to bring discredit on the reputation of the police department.”
That accusation came from a conversation between the three constables and the two booking officers after they put Rogers in a cell. During that conversation, captured on video, Morris called Rogers a “fuckin’ dummy.”
“The Board finds that the conversation was most unprofessional, but we do not conclude that it rose to the level of a disciplinary default,” the board wrote in its decision.
“We conclude that when one considers the whole situation that the surrounding circumstances of that conversation a reasonable person informed of what transpired would find there was no breach of a disciplinary default as alleged.”
Elsewhere, the board excused Morris’s behaviour because he was “a fairly new officer and had little experience working in the downtown core of Halifax and dealing with intoxicated individuals.”
Jeannette Rogers disagreed with that assessment.
“He might have been new this time, but he had been on the force before and was suspended for a DUI,” Rogers said on Monday.
Morris was charged with impaired driving in 2014 after he crashed his car and fled the scene on foot. He had been on the force for about a year at the time. Morris pleaded guilty. He was suspended and then fired from Halifax Regional Police, and then reinstated in 2015 by an order of the Police Review Board. At the time of Rogers’ death, he’d been back on the job for seven months.
Rogers said she felt Morris should’ve been found in breach of the code of conduct because he failed to notify the booking officers at Halifax Regional Police headquarters that her son still had a spit hood on.
She was “disappointed” that Morris was cleared.
“That kind of upset me,” she said.
For the other two officers, Murphy and Paris, the board upheld previous findings of code of conduct defaults.
Both officers were found in breach of the section for which Morris was cleared, “acting in a disorderly manner or in a manner that is reasonably likely to bring discredit on the reputation of the police department.” Both were also found in default by “neglecting or lacking concern for the health or safety of a person in the member’s custody.”
For carelessly throwing Rogers’ shoes into his cell, Murphy was also found to have abused his authority by “using unnecessary force on or cruelly treating any prisoner or other person with whom the member may be brought into contact in the course of duty.”
The board will hear arguments on penalties for Murphy and Paris. Rogers said that sitting had yet to be scheduled.
The booking officers in the case, special constables Cheryl Gardner and Daniel Fraser, are facing a second trial for criminal negligence causing death after their November 2019 conviction was overturned on appeal in January 2021.