Corey Rogers’ mother secures pro-bono lawyers after delays in police review board hearing
Constables to face board in June 2021 after Rogers’ 2016 death in custody
November 9, 2020, 5:00 pm ASTLast Updated: November 9, 2020, 5:25 pm
The three Halifax police officers who arrested Corey Rogers will face a Nova Scotia police review board in June, almost exactly five years after his death in custody, following a series of adjournments that have allowed Rogers’ mother to find pro-bono legal services.
Constables Ryan Morris, Justin Murphy and Donna Lee Paris took Rogers into custody outside the IWK Health Centre in June 2016 and placed a spit hood over his head. He was held in a cell at Halifax Regional Police headquarters on Gottingen Street, where he would vomit into the spit hood and suffocate later that night.
The board was scheduled to hear the case last week. But Rogers’ mother, Jeannette, asked for more time to find a lawyer.
On Monday, Jeannette Rogers appeared in front of the review board alongside her new lawyers, Jason Cooke and Ashley Hamp-Gonsalves of Burchells LLP. The adjournment will allow Cooke and Hamp-Gonsalves time to prepare for the hearing process.
“I came to realize these past few days that I was no match for senior lawyers,” Rogers told reporters. “I don’t know case law, to start with. I’m not a lawyer. I’m your average citizen.”
The review board hearing had initially been scheduled for April 2019. It was delayed while the three-person review panel awaited the results of the trial of the two civilian booking officers, Dan Fraser and Cheryl Gardner, who were supposed to be monitoring Rogers in his cell.
Fraser and Gardner were convicted of criminal negligence causing death and sentenced to probation and community service.
The review board proceedings were initiated by Rogers filing an appeal of the internal disciplinary process that Morris, Murphy and Paris were previously subject to. Rogers has previously said she wants all three constables to “lose their badges.”
All three officers are having their legal costs paid by HRM as part of their union’s collective bargaining agreement.
Rogers originally planned to represent herself, but said the complexity of the proceedings has proven unmanageable.
She has also said previously that she suffers from psychological and medical issues that have further impaired her ability to represent herself, including mental health problems related to watching video of her son’s death.
“I’m feeling elated, actually, (to have lawyers),” she said. “It has taken a lot of stress off, so now I can deal comfortably with my PTSD and occipital neuralgia.”
The new hearing dates, which will span the fourth and fifth weeks of June, were chosen because of scheduling conflicts on the part of the lawyers. The timeline will also allow for the presence of an expert witness, said review board chair Simon MacDonald on Monday.
Speaking to Cooke and Hamp-Gonsalves, MacDonald added, “We don’t want any more adjournments.”
Cooke and Hamp-Gonsalves’s representation of Rogers was brokered by the Elizabeth Fry Society of Mainland Nova Scotia–a non-profit that advocates for women and marginalized people in the justice system.
Jason Cooke told reporters that he agreed to take the case for free partly because he sees Corey Rogers’ death as symptomatic of a larger problem with how police treat vulnerable people.
“We give police extraordinary power… But I guess what I am saying is with that power comes a lot of responsibility. And they failed with Corey on the responsibility,” said Cooke. “We’re talking about human beings who are fallible, who sometimes stumble, make mistakes, have bad days. But that your bad day ends with you being dead in a cell? It’s not right.”
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