The province’s independent Serious Incident Response Team (SiRT) today released its report regarding its investigation into the September, 2013 death of a man being held in Halifax Regional Police (HRP) custody.
Shortly after noon on September 5, 2013, two members of the HRP responded to a complaint of an intoxicated male near Sylvia Avenue in Halifax. They arrested a 52-year-old man for public intoxication. He was taken to HRP cells where he was to be held until sober and then released. The male was well known to police for being intoxicated. At approximately 6 p.m., the man was found by a guard to be breathing but unresponsive. EHS was contacted and transported the man to hospital. He was diagnosed with a serious brain bleed and died on September 8.
The investigation by SiRT included careful study of the treatment of the male from video footage which captured his entire stay at HRP cells. The video shows what appears to be a highly intoxicated male who was able to function on his own. Police interaction with him was appropriate and minimal. After being lodged in a large cell with two other men, the male appeared to lay down and go to sleep. The jail guard carried out checks on the male every 15 minutes as required by HRP policy. The policy also requires that the prisoner be checked to determine if he is able to be roused and answer simple questions. This was not done by the guard. Given the nature of a jail environment, often guards allow prisoners to “sleep it off” rather than awake and disturb them.
The investigation sought and obtained three expert medical opinions regarding cause of death and the impact the failure to wake the sleeping male may have had on the male’s chance of recovery from his injury. The investigation also obtained a comprehensive opinion from the Public Prosecution Service. That process accounted for the time required for the completion of this investigation.
The medical opinions did not note any physical conditions with the male that would have alerted police to a potential serious medical issue. While earlier intervention would have been preferable, it is not certain that AP’s death would have been prevented by such intervention. It was also noted that an alcoholic can suffer a brain bleed from a relatively minor injury.
The guard is required at law to ensure a prisoner receives necessary medical treatment. In this case, the failure of the guard to conduct checks that match policy and may have alerted him to the male’s condition are of significant concern. However, to be a criminal act, the actions of the guard must constitute a marked departure from the standard of care expected of a reasonably prudent jail guard in the circumstances. In this case the guard was not aware of any medical issues, and made a decision to allow the male to sleep. In these circumstances it was found his actions do not constitute a criminal act.