A photo of Corey Rogers. It's taken in a studio, with a backdrop of evergreen trees in a dark blue tone. He's smiling at the camera, wearing a brown blazer and green and brown plaid shirt.
Corey Rogers Credit: Contributed

Halifax Regional Police had no policy or training for the use of spit hoods when Corey Rogers died, but there were clear instructions printed on the hoods themselves.

That’s some of what the Nova Scotia Police Review Board heard on the first day of a hearing into Rogers’ 2016 death in the cells at HRP headquarters on Gottingen Street.

Rogers, 41, was arrested outside the IWK after the birth of his child in June 2016. He was extremely intoxicated, and the three officers who arrested him and brought him to headquarters for booking — constables Ryan Morris, Justin Murphy and Donna Lee Paris — placed a spit hood over his head.

A photo taken from a video of Halifax Regional Police officers standing around Corey Rogers, lying on the floor of the cells at HRP headquarters.
Halifax Regional Police officers are shown standing around Corey Rogers, lying on the floor of the cells at HRP headquarters in footage shown in Nova Scotia Supreme Court during the first criminal negligence trial for special constables Daniel Fraser and Cheryl Gardner. — Photo: Nova Scotia Supreme Court via Star Halifax Credit: Contributed

The hoods are mesh bags placed over a prisoner’s head to keep them from spitting on officers. The hood was left on Rogers’ head in his cell, and he choked on his own vomit and died.

Two booking officers, special constables Daniel Fraser and Cheryl Gardner, were found guilty of criminal negligence causing death in the case, but their conviction was overturned earlier this year and a new trial ordered.

In the meantime, this review board process is underway after years of delays stemming first from the booking officers’ trial, then COVID-19 and Rogers’ mother Jeannette Rogers’ search for a legal team to represent her in the case. Rogers complained about the three officers following her son’s death, and wasn’t satisfied with the police disciplinary process, leading her to appeal that decision to the Police Review Board.

To start the hearing, the board watched a series of videos showing Rogers being removed from a police car and then carried into police headquarters. The video shows Rogers moaning on the floor while Morris, Murphy, and Paris remove his shoes and get him ready for booking.

In a composite photo, three Halifax Regional Police officers — two men in shirts and ties and a woman in a brown jacket, all wearing masks — arrive at a Police Review Board hearing at a hotel in Dartmouth on Monday, June 21, 2021.
(From left) Halifax Regional Police Constables Ryan Morris, Justin Murphy, and Donna Lee Paris arrive at the Police Review Board hearing in Dartmouth on Monday, June 21, 2021. — Photo: Zane Woodford Credit: Zane Woodford

The officers then carry Rogers down a hallway into a dry cell, and leave him on the floor with the spit hood still on.

Rogers would later vomit into that spit hood and asphyxiate. The board didn’t watch that far.

“It was hard,” Jason Cooke, lawyer for Rogers’ mother, said of her watching the video.

“Unfortunately, she’s seen the video on many occasions. It’s really never easy for anybody, not particularly for Jeanette but she did well. There are a couple moments that were testing, no question.”

After watching the video, Ted Murphy, lawyer for Halifax Regional Municipality, representing Halifax Regional Police, called Sgt. Stephen Gillett to the witness stand. Gillet, who’s been with HRP 33 years, is in charge of internal policy audits.

Gillett confirmed HRP had no policy with regard to spit hoods before Rogers’ death. It eventually implemented those policies in late 2019.

Later on Monday, the board heard from Special Const. Stephan Longtin, who worked as a booking officer in HRP cells for 19 years but is now on medical leave.

Longtin said the latest spit hood to be used at HRP cells, the kind Rogers died wearing, was less permeable than past ones. He said booking officers were never trained how to use the spit hoods.

“It was just a tool,” Longtin said, “something for us to use to keep from getting spit at.”

Longtin said he never read the instructions on the hoods, which state that misuse can lead to death by asphyxiation.

Cooke asked him to read those words during his testimony.

“Wearer should be under constant visual supervision and should NEVER be left unattended,” the warning on the hood says.

Longtin confirmed NEVER is in all caps, and that the top of the warning says WARNING, in all caps and bold.

Cooke and Ashley Hamp-Gonsalves, Rogers’ other lawyer, are arguing the three arresting officers breached three sections of the code of conduct in the provincial Police Act Regulations: “neglecting or lacking concern for the health or safety of a person in the member’s custody;” “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;” and “acting in a disorderly manner or in a manner that is reasonably likely to bring discredit on the reputation of the police department.”

The lawyers agreed to drop a fourth section of the code — “neglecting to or, without adequate reason, failing to promptly, properly or diligently perform a duty as a member” — because it’s covered by the allegation of “neglecting or lacking concern for the health or safety of a person in the member’s custody.”

The hearing is expected to run Tuesday to Thursday this week, and Monday to Wednesday next week.

There was also an internal disciplinary process involving the three officers. It’s unclear what punishments the three officers received originally and whether they stem from the internal or public complaint processes. The internal process is not public, and the review board is also going to hold an internal appeal hearing after this public one.

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Zane Woodford is the Halifax Examiner’s municipal reporter. He covers Halifax City Hall and contributes to our ongoing PRICED OUT housing series. Twitter @zwoodford

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