Domestic assault fears complicate handling of mentally ill suspects: police

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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HALIFAX - A Halifax police superintendent told an inquiry looking into the death of Howard Hyde that officers would be more likely to put a mentally ill person through the court system than into hospital if the case involved a domestic assault.
Hyde, a 45-year-old man with a history of schizophrenia, died in a provincial jail on Nov. 22, 2007, 30 hours after being arrested and Tasered by Halifax police officers.
He had been picked up at his spouse's apartment the day before after she called police to complain of a domestic assault.
Hyde was taken to hospital after he was Tasered but returned to the police station, charged and then transferred to jail.
Supt. Bill Moore, who oversees Halifax police policy on mental health issues, told the fatality inquiry on Thursday that officers are taught to treat domestic assaults as serious crimes.
He said he hadn't interviewed the officers involved in Tasering or booking Hyde and had only looked at some of the documents involved in the case.
Moore said police often face problems in trying to protect victims of domestic assault.
Police use the Involuntary Psychiatric Treatment Act to force a mentally ill person arrested in such cases into hospital care. But Moore said there's always a chance an accused could be released back into the community without time to implement measures to protect the victim.
"I would characterize domestic assault as a serious matter, and I would say that in those cases ... officers would tend to take the court route," he testified.
Moore said most officers believe that if a mentally ill person is put through the court system, there's a strong chance a forensic psychiatric assessment will be ordered.
There would also be "conditions placed upon the accused party for no contact with the victim," he said.
If a mentally ill person is left in hospital, it's possible police won't even be informed if the patient is released, Moore added.
"There is no followup loop and no requirement for the hospital to notify us when that person is to come out," he said.
"There are some concerns about confidentiality to notifying the police. So, therefore, you could have a person back out with no conditions prohibiting contact with the victim."
The police officer also said there aren't secure hospital units in the province for mentally ill people who are awaiting a court appearance and haven't gone through a forensic psychiatric assessment.
During his testimony, Moore said he felt it's important to have more secure mental health crisis housing available.
He said if Hyde had been released by police under the condition he couldn't return to his wife's home, it begs the question of where he would have gone.
"If we released him on conditions not to go home again ... what is the support system in place for that?"

Geographic location: HALIFAX, Tasering

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