Mother of Halifax man who died in police cell struggles to find lawyer to make case
The mother of a man who died in a Halifax police jail cell says her ability to press complaints against police officers will be jeopardized unless she find a lawyer to take on her case for free.
Jeannette Rogers, 70, made an emotional request today to the Nova Scotia Police Review Board for added time to confirm if one of several possibilities for legal representation would come through.
She told the three-person, civilian panel she's "not in the same league" as the respondents' experienced lawyers, who are paid from public funds through provisions of the police union's collective agreement.
The three-person civilian board ruled late in the morning it would give Rogers until Monday to find a lawyer willing to participate, which could lead to an adjournment and rescheduling the hearing.
Rogers has been searching for a lawyer to help in her complaint over the disciplinary action taken against three officers who arrested her intoxicated son, Corey Rogers, on June 15, 2016.
Constables Ryan Morris, Donna Lee Paris and Justin Murphy, brought Rogers to the cells from outside a Halifax hospital where his wife had given birth to their child the day before.
According to the medical examiner, the 41-year-old man died later of suffocation while lying in a cell with a spit hood covering his mouth as he appeared to be vomiting. A spit hood is a covering over the face designed to stop someone from spitting or biting.
In her submission to the board today, Rogers says earlier in the process she'd attempted to find a lawyer, but found she couldn't afford suggested fees and opted to represent herself.
She says she's only realized recently that some lawyers might consider working for free, but during conversations this week she learned they would need until at least early next year to prepare if they accept her case.
"Although you advised me previously to seek legal advice, at that time I had no funds to acquire legal representation," she told the board.
"I don't have a union behind me to pay for my legal representation like the officers do, even though their lawyers are paid from taxpayers' funds."
Dean Stienburg, president of the Halifax Regional Police Association, confirmed after the hearing that the union's collective agreement provides for the city to cover legal costs of officers facing disciplinary actions.
Archie Kaiser, a professor at the Schulich school of law at Dalhousie University, said cases such as Rogers' show the board should have the ability to recommend legal aid for complainants.
"Providing legal counsel for unrepresented persons like Ms. Rogers would significantly contribute to the legitimacy of the proceedings in the eyes of the public," he wrote in an email.
"If this case goes ahead without there being the benefit of legal counsel for Ms. Rogers, it will expose again a significant deficiency in the investigation and decision-making surrounding alleged police misconduct."
Rogers told the three-person civilian panel that she now realizes that due to her medical condition and the complexities of the hearing, she doesn't have the capacity to properly speak for her son. She said she suffers from a nerve condition known as neuralgia and post-traumatic stress disorder since her son's death.
The hearing had previously been delayed last year due to the trial of two booking officers, special constables Daniel Fraser and Cheryl Gardner, who were found guilty of criminal negligence last November in Rogers' death.
There has also been an internal police review of the arresting officers' conduct in Rogers' case, which found misconduct had occurred. However, the police department has declined comment on whether any disciplinary action was taken against the officers.
Rogers has said she hopes the hearing will determine what role the officers played and whether they met standards outlined in the Nova Scotia Police Act regulations. She said she believes they should lose their jobs.
The regulations include requirements that officers act in a manner that doesn't bring discredit to the force and that they consider the health and safety of prisoners and refrain from the use of excessive force or cruelty.
Rogers argues that since one of the arresting officers put the spit hood on her son, they should have been responsible for removing it, given his extremely intoxicated state.
She also said the arresting officers should have warned the booking officers they'd witnessed Rogers downing large quantities of alcohol from a bottle of liquor, and they could have recommended that he be taken to the emergency ward for monitoring.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 4, 2020.