OPP has no policy on improvised spit protection, inquest told

OPP has no policy on improvised spit protection, inquest told

Updated: 1 month, 29 days, 10 hours, 3 minutes, 52 seconds ago

The OPP has a policy to govern the use of spit hoods, but it doesn’t cover the adoption of “improvised” tools such as a towel to restrain someone from spitting at an officer, an inquest has heard.

Under the police service’s use-of-force order, a spit hood — a soft loose mesh — is a temporary protective hood that fits over a prisoner’s head to prevent spitting and biting by an individual, as well as to prevent transfer of saliva or blood to others.

During a testimony at the inquest into the death of an immigration detainee, OPP Sgt. Shawn Trudeau, a use-of-force trainer, said officers are coached on how to properly use a spit hood, though the device is not always handily available and they must improvise with materials available to them.

“We have things that we are trained to use and that we’re issued,” Trudeau told the inquest on Tuesday into the death of Abdurahman Ibrahim Hassan on June 11, 2015 while in the custody of Canada Border Services Agency.

“There could be a million things that an officer may use in certain situations to improvise, to try and get the situation under control.”

Hassan, who had schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and PTSD, had been held in various jails since 2012 pending deportation to Somalia. He was taken to a Peterborough hospital on June 3, 2015, and died eight days later after a struggle in his hospital room under the guard of two paid-duty police officers, Peterborough Const. Alicia McGriskin and the late OPP Const. Andy Eberhardt.

The inquest has heard Eberhardt placed a towel over Hassan’s mouth to restrain him and prevent him from spitting at and biting officers and nurses around him immediately before the man’s death.

A pathologist has testified the 39-year-old could have died of an irregular heartbeat related to his mental health issues and medication, while struggling against restraints or asphyxia from the towel over his mouth.

The OPP policy stipulates that a spit hood is to be used if there is no other “reasonable, less intrusive way” to reduce the threat, provided that the prisoner is under control and restrained. There’s also a note in fine print that warns: “Improper use may result in serious injury or death due to asphyxiation, suffocation or drowning in one’s own fluid.”

Earlier testimony by witnesses indicated no spit hood was used on Hassan, who was aggressive and violent, smearing and spitting feces at the two officers and nurses at the hospital. On two separate occasions, Eberhardt was seen using the towel to subdue Hassan, including in the final moments before the man’s death.

Trudeau was uncertain about the inclusion of the use of towel as a spit hood in the use-of-force order, which all OPP officers must follow.

“Ideally, when we are trying to do training, our goal is to try and get the officers to use things that we know that are approved,” he said. “If we start going down and trying to train them on other things, what does that look like? … We’re really going down a road of this uncertainty.”

Under cross-examination, Trudeau said there are currently no policies to guide officers on how they may support hospital staff in restraining custodial patients; he added that some direction about that would be useful.

“We’re being forced in a situation where we’re asked to provide control of somebody and restrain them in the ways that they have been taught to restrain and do what they need to do in a hospital setting, which is not ideally what we do,” he noted. “We’re under their direction.”

Trudeau agreed that officers on paid duty in hospital would benefit from having more personal information — details such as mental health and the propensity to violence — on the individuals they are guarding and escorting.

“Those are things that certainly would be helpful to know,” he noted.

The inquest resumes on Wednesday.


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