HALIFAX — A Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge on Monday handed two special constables with Halifax police suspended sentences with three years probation in the June 2016 suffocation death of an inmate at the city’s detention centre.
A jury found booking officers Daniel Fraser and Cheryl Gardner guilty of criminal negligence last November in the jail cell death of Corey Rogers. A medical examiner determined Rogers died of suffocation while lying in a cell with a spit hood covering his mouth as he appeared to be vomiting.
In an oral ruling, Justice Kevin Coady said that in this case, the goals of denunciation and general deterrence can be met without incarceration.
“This is not a sentence that must reflect specific deterrence,” said Coady. “Neither special constable Fraser or special constable Gardner need to be deterred from committing further offences. They have lived pro-social lives and will continue to do so in the future.”
Coady said society didn’t need protection from the two defendants, adding there was nothing to suggest they are in need of rehabilitation.
While he concluded that Fraser and Gardner were in positions of trust and authority in relation to prisoners in their care, Coady said that factor had “limited application in this sentencing.”
“These offences usually involve … a higher degree of blameworthiness than is apparent in this case,” the judge said. Both Fraser and Gardner will also be required to complete 200 hours of community service within 18 months of the judge’s decision.
The Crown had asked for two-year prison sentences, while both defence lawyers had asked for suspended sentences with conditions.
Neither defendant would talk with reporters outside the courtroom, but defence lawyer Joel Pink expressed satisfaction with the judge’s decision, saying it aligned with the facts in the case.
“Even though it was a terrible accident that occurred on this particular night, you can see where the (police) department in my opinion failed to train the officers properly,” Pink said. “As a result, it was just a terrible accident that could have happened at any time to anybody.”
Pink said there are plans to appeal the jury’s verdict.
The victim’s mother, Jeannette Rogers, had called for a strict sentence. She told the court during the sentencing hearing last week that living every day without her son was like a “life sentence without the possibility of parole.”
She told reporters she was “disappointed and hurt” by the judge’s sentencing decision.
“I am angry that they got a suspended sentence. I don’t think that was appropriate,” Rogers said. “I’m not out to destroy someone’s life even though they’ve destroyed mine, however, I do feel that they should have gotten some jail time. To me, it says that Corey’s life was not worth anything.”
Rogers said she hoped there would be an appeal of the sentence by Crown attorney Chris Vanderhooft.
Vanderhooft, a Manitoba prosecutor brought in for the case, appeared in court via video link. He has 30 days to appeal and said in an email he wouldn’t comment until he had a chance to review the decision.
During the trial, the jury was shown video of Rogers, 41, heaving in a cell while wearing the spit hood. The mask prevents prisoners from spitting on guards, but also comes with instructions warning against leaving it on a highly intoxicated person who may vomit.
Rogers was arrested hours before his death outside a Halifax hospital where his wife had given birth to their child the day before.
Trial evidence indicated he was extremely impaired after rapidly drinking half a bottle of whisky and that police saw him consume the liquor. The arresting officers testified they placed the hood on Rogers’ face after he was spitting in the police car on the way to the station.
Fraser and Gardner were charged in 2017 after an investigation by the Serious Incident Response Team — Nova Scotia’s police watchdog agency.
In his ruling, Coady noted that they had lived under a cloud for more than two years, adding that absent their conviction, they have lived “unblemished lives.”
“The possibility of incarceration has, no doubt, taken it’s toll on both defendants,” the judge said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 17, 2020
Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press