A hearing of Nova Scotia’s police review board has been adjourned again, and potentially for much longer, to give Jeannette Rogers time to get a lawyer.
“If the board wants to ensure this is a fair process, I need to be given them more time to find a lawyer to hear the case,” Rogers told the board on Wednesday.
Rogers’ son, Corey Rogers, died in police custody in June 2016. He was arrested outside a children’s hospital and taken to Halifax Regional Police headquarters, where officers placed a spit hood over his head and put him in a cell. He vomited into the spit hood, asphyxiated, and died in the cell.
Two civilian booking officers, Cheryl Gardner and Dan Fraser, were supposed to be checking on Rogers every 15 minutes. They were convicted of criminal negligence causing death last year, and sentenced this year to probation and community service.
The three arresting officers — Constables Ryan Morris, Justin Murphy and Donna Lee Paris — were not criminally charged. Rogers appealed their internal discipline to the police review board, triggering the hearing.
On Monday, the hearing resumed after it was first adjourned in April 2019 pending the outcome of Fraser and Gardner’s trial. It adjourned again until Wednesday to give Jeannette Rogers time to talk to a lawyer.
On Wednesday, Rogers asked for another adjournment, telling the board she didn’t know until Tuesday that lawyers sometimes take on clients pro bono — for free.
“I believe there is a possibility of having someone represent me in this matter,” Rogers told the board on Wednesday.
“However, this won’t be possible until 2021, as all the lawyers I have spoken with are not available until then. As you mentioned, I am not a lawyer, and as such, I am not in the same league as the officers’ experienced lawyers.”
Rogers said she’d spoken with lawyers from two firms — Patterson Law and Burchells — about representing her.
“A one day adjournment was not enough time for me to get a retainer agreement in place with any lawyer. But I think these expressions of interest go to show that I am serious about getting representation for this hearing,” she said.
The time she was given wasn’t even enough for prospective lawyers to make sure they didn’t have a conflict in taking the case, Rogers said, given the number of lawyers already involved.
Compounding the difficulty of representing herself in a complicated legal hearing, Rogers suffers from PTSD and occipital neuralgia — a condition she said causes her to have a constant headache.
The board granted Rogers an adjournment until Monday morning. At that time, she must bring a lawyer to confirm they will be ready to represent her in the New Year, and to try to set dates for the hearing.
“At this stage, we do have some concern with a private citizen representing herself,” vice chair Simon MacDonald said in granting the adjournment.
After the adjournment, Rogers told reporters she hopes she’ll be able to get a lawyer to come on Monday.
Asked whether she thinks there should be funding available, through Nova Scotia Legal Aid or otherwise, to ensure complainants at the board have legal representation, Rogers agreed.
“It’s nigh impossible for a lay person to represent themselves at a police review board hearing, I’ve come to understand,” she said.
El Jones, an advocate with the East Coast Prison Justice Society and the Elizabeth Fry Society of Mainland Nova Scotia who was at the hearing on Wednesday to support Rogers, said there should be funding available.
“It’s not just that the police have lawyers, it’s that we actually pay for those lawyers, including her, where she’s offered no representation at all,” Jones told reporters. “At the very least, there should be an equal amount of money granted to people going through these complaints processes to try and redress that.”
Jones said the process at the review board is emblematic of the justice system as a whole.
“I think what we’re asking of people in these situations is quite inhumane,” Jones said.
“I think in any kind of just society we would not be seeing a mother being asked now to question the people responsible for her son’s death, about that death. I think all of us can see that’s wrong.”
Rogers wants to see the three officers “lose their badges.”
“I don’t feel they acted appropriately whatsoever,” Rogers said.
Lawyers for the officers declined to speak with reporters. The hearing resumes Monday at 9:30am.
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