Tag Archives: murder

Howard Hyde Inquiry Ignores Ableism As Cause of Death

Note: This post discusses police violence against people with mental health conditions.

The results of the Hyde Inquiry were released on Wednesday.

Some things about the Hyde Inquiry, since I don’t think it’s been widely covered outside of Nova Scotia. I wrote this summary several months ago:

Howard Hyde had a diagnosis of schizophrenia. The treatments he was on were making him sick, so he stopped taking them. He became violent.

His wife called the mobile mental health team – a project in Halifax that will go to you rather than you needing to go to them. She then called 9-1-1.

Two days later, he was dead in police custody, having been tasered.

Various things went horribly wrong. Among them were -and continue to be – the police’s inability to deal with people who have schizophrenia, amongst other mental health related conditions.

What they should have done was taken him to the hospital. Which they did, for a bit, and then left, returning him to lock-up.

His wife had tried to contact them and make sure that he was okay, and that they were aware that he had schizophrenia.

“I really wanted him to be in the hospital and get the treatment he needed for psychosis,” she said.

He had been taken to hospital for assessment, and the hospital staff requested that he be returned to the hospital after his arraignment hearing. He was not.

Parts of the surveillance tape of the tasering itself are “missing”.

“Hyde began struggling when officers tried to cut the string from his shorts. Though images were not caught on tape, surveillance audio recorded sound of the scuffle. Edwards can be heard saying “Howard, sit down.” Fellow Const. Greg McCormack is then argued to have said “You’re going to be doing the f***ing dance next, Howard,” although his voice is muffled.

It was also revealed that more than 30 minutes of footage of Hyde in a cell waiting to be booked has gone missing.”

I’ve since learned that what was actually said to Howard as the police officers approached him with a knife:

A surveillance camera captured the moment when an officer told Hyde a utility knife would be used to remove a knot from the drawstring in Hyde’s shorts, saying: “I just have to cut off one of those balls there.”

Anyway, as I said, the results were back. After 11 months of looking into the death of a man who police were called to help, we’ve all been told that Howard’s murder was an “accident” and it had nothing to do with his mental health condition.

“The only useful approach is to understand that Mr. Hyde died because of physiological changes in his body brought on by an intense struggle involving restraint,” Derrick wrote. “He did not die because he was mentally ill.”

I suppose this is technically correct. Howard’s death was not because he was mentally ill, his death was because the police were ill-equipped to deal with someone having a mental health crisis. I don’t have statistics about the number of men having mental health crises that are murdered by police officers every year, but I do know that I can’t go a whole month without at least one report, and it’s an issue that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada feels needs to be addressed.

I think it is naive to state that Howard wasn’t murdered because of his diagnosis. I think it ignores a frightening history of people with mental health conditions being murdered by police officers. I think it ignores that the criminal justice system is not equipped to effectively deal with people with mental health conditions. I think it ignores that there are limited resources available for people with mental health conditions and their families to get the help they need to cope with crisis situations.

I think it completely ignores the fact that Howard’s wife called the police for help, and two days later he was dead.

So yes, Howard Hyde isn’t dead because he had schizophrenia. He’s dead because ableism kills.

Record of the Dead for November 2010

Trigger warning for discussion of murder and abuse of people with disabilities. This month’s list also includes disabled people who were victims of sex-based crimes before their deaths.

This list of November media reports about people with disabilities murdered or dying under strange circumstances is presented without commentary, but that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing people may want to discuss about it in comments. I do not believe for a moment that this list is complete. It is sorted alphabetically by last name. Almost all links are to news reports.

“Amanda” (unidentified by any other name; police have not released her name), 23, back injuries that required a walker to get around, Flint, Michigan, November 16. “Someone had hit her with a car, and left her to die.”

Cynthia Burns, 58, stroke and undefined physical disabilities, Wylie, Texas, April 2009. “The 5-foot-5 woman weighed 54 pounds when she died.”

Thomas Boyle, two broken hips, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, November 17. Died in a house fire.

Cynthia Cline, 51, “mentally disabled”, East Liverpool, Ohio, November 13. She was stabbed once in the abdomen by her boyfriend.

Antonio Quinton Clarke, 15, learning disabilities, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, November 25, 2007. “He was so badly beaten, his face was unrecognizable.” No one has been charged.

Amanda Cooper, 10, “developmentally disabled”, Los Angeles, California, November 27. “Authorities are investigating whether she was killed as part of a sexual assault.”

Laura Cummings, 23, “mentally troubled”, North Collins, Massachusettes, January 21, 2010. Her mother smothered her with a pillow; her half-brother is facing charges of sexual abuse against Laura. The prosecutor described her “depraved and horrific mistreatment of her daughter and her post-plea claims that her daughter’s misconduct led to her own death.”

Jennifer Daugherty, 30, “mentally disabled”, Greensburg, Pennsylvania, February 11, 2010. “One of Jennifer Daugherty’s alleged killers described in gruesome detail Monday how the six suspects repeatedly tortured the mentally disabled woman for 48 hours before they voted to kill her.” They killed her by “repeatedly stabbing” her for 30 minutes, then slit her throat.

Tiffany Demus, 31, “cerebral palsy and the mentality of an 8-year-old”, Arlington, Texas, sometime during the week of November 22. The only details as of this writing are that she was found dead in a park after having run away from home following a family argument.

Dawn Driver, 60, schizophrenia, affective psychosis and chronic anxiety, Leyland, UK, July 23, 2010. After receiving anti-psychotic medication, she jumped to her death in front of a train.

Loren Donn Leslie, 15, blind, Vanderhoof, British Columbia, Canada, November 27. Police are not releasing the cause of her death. She was found dead on the side of a rural road. Police have a friend of hers in custody.

Luella Edge, 80, “Alzheimer’s disease and was a paranoid schizophrenic”, Bellaire, Ohio, some time after April 30. She had disappeared from her retirement home 7 months ago; her remains were found in a wooded area near-by.

Lynsie Ekelund, 20, partially paralyzed, Santa Clarita Canyon, California, sometime after Feb. 17, 2001. Her murderer recently confessed to raping and strangling her on the way to a party.

Ila Gandhi, 62, schizophrenia, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India, November 14. Strangled in her secured building. Her mother was also seriously injured.

Paul Harden, 25, undefined mental health condition related to PTSD, St Helens, UK, October 29. Unexplained drug overdose.

Ryan Hughes, autism, ADHD, Newcastle, Co Wicklow, Republic of Ireland, September 3, 2009. Choked to death on a latex glove while being cared for at a respite facility. His death was ruled accidental.

Tom Inglis, 22, brain damage, London, England, November 21 2008. Lethal injection of heroine administered by his mother, who barricaded the door to his room and super-glued the door closed. [More details about this case]

Joan Johnston, 57, used a mobility scooter, Scarborough, UK. The doctor who hit her vehicle in a head-on collision has been fined but not held in jail because his “contribution to society in your everyday work is extensive.” Yes, he will not get more than a fine because Joan was apparently partly responsible for her own death for being fat and having a mobility scooter in her vehicle.

Linda Lee Yee Lin, 12, “had limited use of her legs and could not walk unaided”, Singapore, date unknown, news report looks like it was sometime mid-November 2010. Found dead at the foot of a block of flats. “It is not known which floor she fell from.” [More about this case]

Clara Laird, 86, dementia, Seal Beach, California, November 21. Shot by her husband while in a nursing home.

Samuel Mason, 61, unspecified mental and physical disabilities, Jackson, Mississippi, November 16. Samuel has just died from injuries from a beating outside of his home on July 10, 2010. There are no leads in his case.

Eddie Maddick, 45, epilepsy, Millbrook, Hampshire, UK, July 28, 2001. Stomped to death.

Doug Minty, 59, “mentally challenged”, Elmvale, Ontario, June 22, 2009. Died from multiple gunshot wounds after being shot outside his mother’s home by Huronia West OPP Const. Graham Seguin.

Jeffrey Munro, 32, schizophrenia, Toronto, Ontario, November 7, 2009. He was found beaten to death in his jail cell.

Richard Steven Poccia, 60, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Napa, California, November 29. “The victim’s wife had called police for assistance at about 3 p.m., police said. Her husband was described as “possibly suicidal,” they said. … One officer Tasered the man while another shot him.”

Christy Russell, 35, wheelchair user, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, November 8. Hit and killed by an SUV in an area with no sidewalks. Another wheelchair user was killed last month in the same area. The city passed an ordinance four years ago that sidewalks should be built. [More details about this case. The video describes further details about the accident.]

Shayne Richard Sime, 42, spinal disease, Christchurch, New Zealand, June 28, 2009. Shot to death by police officers, his death has been ruled a suicide.

Levi Schaeffer, 30, schizophrenia, Thunder Bay, Ontario, June 24, 2009. Shot by a provincial police officer.

Ajit Singh, 12, autistic, London, England, February 9, 2010. His mother forced him to drink bleach, and then tried to kill herself by drinking bleach herself. Please note that the news reports indicate that Singh’s mother has been diagnosed with a psychiatric condition.

Jorene White, 59, “bedridden and suffered from debilitating arthritis”, Madison, Ohio, July 23, 2010. “Jorene died in July from blood infection caused by maggots, who laid eggs in her body.” Her husband plead guilty to reckless homicide. “The prosecutor calls the case “sad.” “She had open bed sores. The sores had gotten to the point that her body had started decomposing and then the body starts decomposing, the flies move in and lay their eggs and start to eat their flesh while she is still alive.””

Beryl Webb, 75, histrionic personality disorder, fibromyalgia, Sheffield, UK, May 14, 2010. He husband smothered her to death. He claims she wanted to commit suicide; her diary claims “Hugh dreadful. Wants me dead. Hates me because of my mobility problems.”

Unnamed 16 year old boy, undefined disabilities, but he was in a “treatment center” for people with “pervasive developmental disorders, emotional disorders, are hearing impaired or mentally impaired”, Manvel, Texas, November 5. “Restraint techniques were used to subdue the child”, death is thought to be by asphyxiation.

Institutions

Torture In US Prisons by Stephen Lendman discusses the torture of inmates in US prisons, including prisoners with disabilities. Please note this is very graphic in its descriptions.

Calls come after a report of 13 deaths of children and young adults at North Side home since 2000, Illinois. “Among the proposals: raising fines and sending cases to a medical examiner’s office. One advocate suggested that facility operators who run poor homes shouldn’t be allowed to acquire new ones. “How many dead kids are you going to get a pass on?” asked Wendy Meltzer, executive director for Illinois Citizens for Better Care.”

Supreme Court to hear California Prisons Case

On the mental health side, the examples too are, in the words of one observer, “Dickensian,” with suicides averaging one a week, and the number of preventable suicides rising dramatically.

Follow Ups

The murderer of Phillip Holmes has received a life sentence. “The judge said Mather had shown no remorse for the murder of Mr Holmes, who was described in court as a “gentle, vulnerable man””

The body of Zahra Clare Baker has been found. As of this writing police have not laid charges.

The men accused of branding swastika on a mentally-disabled Navajo man on April 22, 2010 are in court.

An inquiry into the murderer of John Williams has found the shooting was not justified.

Betty Anne Gagnon and Murder Most Foul

Content note: This post includes discussions of the murder and abuse of people with disabilities.

Betty Anne Gagnon was 48 years old when she was found curled up in the front seat of a pickup truck in the parking lot of a petrol station near Edmonton, Canada, in November 2009. Her face was heavily bruised and her body bore clear evidence of abuse.

She was dead. The coroner determined that blunt force trauma to the head was the likely cause of death. That was, in the literal sense, the cause of death, but what actually caused her death was ableism.

Betty had developmental disabilities. For 14 years, she lived independently with a caregiver in Calgary, but later moved in with her sister and brother-in-law. During the almost five year time period before her death, she was confined in a cage made of chicken wire, and forced to sleep in a tent smeared with her own feces. Or locked in a dog run in the yard. Or in a decommissioned school bus. Her ‘caregivers’ openly admitted this at the inquest into her death, where they described leaving her in the unheated bus with no toilet facilities, and they talked about the events in the hours before she was left to die in a parking lot, about how she was cold and struggled to breathe. Oh, but they called emergency services for help after they dumped her.

They are being charged with manslaughter, ‘unlawful’ confinement, and assault. I understand how the law works, and how the statutes are organised, and I understand why they cannot be charged with murder, but this was murder. It was murder after years of dehumanisation and abuse. It was murder. It was the complete and utter, total devaluation of human life.

Last week, a vigil was held to honour her, and to draw attention to the abuse of people with disabilities. As attendees at the vigil pointed out, caregiver abuse is common, it’s not commonly addressed, and sometimes it ends in cases like this.

The thing about cases like this is that they are endless. Every week, it seems, I am reading about another person with disabilities being murdered by ‘caregivers,’ and these cases drop off the radar very quickly, but I remember them. We remember them. We also remember the narrative that surrounds most of these cases, where we are reminded that caring for people with disabilities is such a burden and there must have been circumstances involved that we don’t know about, because how could we, it’s so hard to be a caregiver.

Of course, none of us are caregivers. It’s either/or, right? You are either a person with disabilities, or you are a caregiver.

I always thought, personally, that it’s pretty hard to dehumanise people, but apparently the media has no problem doing that. Very rarely do cases like this stress that there was a person involved, a human being, who is now dead. Dead because of social attitudes about the value of disabled lives, dead because of narratives reinforcing latitude in circumstances, dead because no one reported the abuse or because if someone did, the report wasn’t taken seriously. Dead because, sometimes, the media treats murderous ‘caregivers’ like misunderstood heroes.

It is sickening, and I mean that in a physical sense, to read article after article about people killing people like me, and getting away with it. And it is enraging to see how little coverage these cases get, a throwaway that happened to pop up when I happened to look at the screen, and would have missed otherwise. How many other devalued lives have been snuffed out without any awareness on the media’s part at all?

Betty Anne Gagnon was a human being. She had feelings, memories, experiences, and life. And that was taken from her because of her disabilities, because people determined that she wasn’t a person, and therefore didn’t need even the minimum standard of care you would give to a human being: A bed, a warm room, food, a place to use the toilet. She was locked up in an outdoor dog run in Alberta in the winter.

The media reported on the vigil, but didn’t really provide hard statistical information about the abuse and murder of people with disabilities, beyond making vague references to the fact that we are more likely to experience abuse. Many of those articles were specifically framed to focus on caregivers, not actual people with disabilities. Caregivers to ‘speak for those who can’t,’ reminding us, yet again, that those of us who cannot communicate in a way that satisfies others are deemed ‘silent.’

When we talk about ableism, about social attitudes, this is what we are talking about. We are talking about the fact that Betty’s life was deemed worthless because of her disabilities, and that every mainstream narrative reinforced that, right down to the complete lack of interest in her death on the part of anyone other than a handful of disability rights activists.

I remember the Bettys of this world, because so few people will.

Not So Silent

As I’m typing this, it’s the wee hours of the morning of December 6th. Today marks the 20th year since the Montreal Massacre, when Marc Lepin walked into the Ecole Polytechnique and murdered 14 women, blaming feminism for ruining his life. (He also injured 10 other women, and 4 men, before turning the gun on himself.)

Over the past 20 years, I’ve probably attended 14 memorials for the Massacre. The ones I’m most familiar with were the ones held at the first university I attended. There, we would gather in a solemn circle lit only by candles. 14 young women would each read the name of one of the dead, and blow out their candle, and we would mourn.

Last year I attended Halifax’s first “Not So Silent Vigil”. Instead of focusing on the murders in Montreal, this vigil was for all the women in Canada who have been victims of domestic violence. Speakers, singers, dancers, and even a hilarious feminist comedienne took on the subject of violence and sexism. There was a moment of silence, in memory of our dead. There was a moment of screaming, for the women who cannot or will not scream.

We have this memorial for gender-based violence every year. In recent years, national vigils have begun to remind us of dead and missing First Nations women (Sisters in Spirit Vigil [PDF]) There are vigils around the world for trans* men and women. We are beginning, slowly, to talk about how these different identities mean that some women’s deaths count, while others don’t merit more than page B3 in the local news.

The Not-So-Silent Vigil (last year) was a group project where many women representing many groups in Halifax came together and created a dramatic and moving experience. I found it to be inclusive of First Nations women and Africa-Nova Scotian women, although others may have different opinions.

It was until I was walking home with Don that I realised that there had been no mention of women with disabilities.

I don’t fault the people behind the Vigil for this. They did a lot of hard work to bring together the groups that they did, and I have no idea if more people will be involved this year, if women with disabilities will be included. (If not this year, then I should get myself involved for next year – I think the women who do this work every year take on a great deal, and I wouldn’t want to ask them to do more than they already are.)

But I also wonder – would it be controversial for me to ask for a moment of silence and screaming for Tracy Latimer? Every time her murderer, her father, comes up for parole, the newspapers take the opportunity to argue whether or not it was morally wrong for him to murder Tracy. People argue that he should be released, because it’s not like he’ll kill again. Disabled children don’t come along every day, after all.

I don’t know, I don’t know. It’s really hard for me to write about this. I don’t want to risk being told that the murder of women with disabilities is a special interest that shouldn’t be brought up at this memorial. But at the same time, I have no reason to believe that I would be told that (except that I’ve been told that in the past, about other memorials to violence against women, but not by this group). Is it appropriative to want to name our names, to remind everyone that violence against us is sometimes considered okay, because our lives are considered less worthy?

Katie-Lynn Baker was starved to death by her mother. Her murderer argued that she could tell Katie-Lynn, who had Rett Syndrome (a form of autism) and couldn’t speak, wanted to die, so she just stopped feeding the 10 year old girl. Her murderer was never even charged with a crime.

Chelsea Craig was fed a lethal dose of medication by her mother, who was found not criminally responsible due to mental illness. The accused claimed she murdered Chelsea because she didn’t want to leave Chelsea alone with her father.

The murderer of Charles-Antoine Blais drowned him in the tub because his autism was too much for her. After her year of community service, she became a spokesperson for an Autism foundation in Montreal. He was 6 years old.

We don’t talk about these names, these deaths, very often. Tracy’s comes up whenever her murderer is up for parole, but I had a hard time finding information about the other names, about Chelsea and Katie-Lynn and Charles-Antoine. We don’t seem to have a national memorial, a day to honour the children who are murdered for being disabled, the women who are raped for being institutionalized, the beating and torture of cripples done out of boredom. We don’t recite the names of our dead.

Should we? Should I incite controversy and recite the names today? Should I shout them during our moment of screaming, for myself if no one else? Should I approach the women who have worked so hard on this vigil and ask to be a part of it, so next year I can recite the names of every woman with disabilities murdered in Canada in the next 12 months?

Is silence ever the right answer?

Today we remember our dead, killed for being women and daring to attend Engineering School, and I recite these names, like a rosary, every year.

Geneviève Bergeron
Hélène Colgan
Nathalie Croteau
Barbara Daigneault
Anne-Marie Edward
Maud Haviernick
Maryse Laganière
Maryse Leclair
Anne-Marie Lemay
Sonia Pelletier
Michèle Richard
Annie St-Arneault
Annie Turcotte
Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz

I hope you will all forgive me, but this has taken 2 1/2 hours to write, and I have no idea if I’ll be able to discuss it.

Recommended Reading for October 30

#Antidev: Some thoughts on disability “devotees”

The issue of disability devotees — and let’s call a spade a spade here: they’re fetishists — divides the disability community at every level, from academia to, well, Facebook. It’s something women with visible disabilities encounter regularly. And I believe that, while the extremists are relatively rare, the growing acceptance of “devotees” online will trickle down into the broader social constructs around disability.

It’s widely believed that people with disabilities are viewed (in contemporary Western culture, at least) as “asexual.” The truth is more complex. We certainly do not fit the airbrushed-cover-of-Vogue ideal of beauty that is shoved down our throats. But then again, neither do all but a few supermodels on the planet; we don’t consider 99.99% of women as asexual, though. So here’s a key point: differentiating beauty (or physical attractiveness) from sexuality. To be sure, sex can be different and require a bit of creativity and patience, but most women with physical disabilities (at least, the ones I know!) have pretty normal sex lives. Nevertheless, because we can fall so far outside the norm of what is considered attractive, we (like all women) tend to conflate general beauty with sexual attractiveness, making us easy targets for people calling themselves “disability devotees” — sexual fetishists who objectify women with disabilities and reduce them to the sum of their (disabled) parts. Many women with disabilities entertain such advances, or even encourage them; when you’ve lived in a society rife with ableism it can be easy to believe that your disability defines you (and as a woman, that your sexuality defines you), and fetishists play right into that mindset.

Personal Situation

Now that I know all these things about my father I can‘t stop thinking about it (especially the new info in addition to the terrible tirade from him the day before). I don’t want to live with him anymore, but I don’t really have any other options. I need constant care and there’s no one else in my family who is able to take care of me. I know everyone says this, but he truly does love me and wouldn’t be able to take care of me like this if he didn’t. Out of everyone in my life he’s given above and beyond anyone else when it comes to my caretaking – he’s here full time and any one else is less than once a month. But I can’t stand to be around him anymore. I have so much anger. I’m angry how he treated my mother, and indirectly caused her to hurt me. But I’m angry at my mother for directly hurting me. I’m angry at my father for having such an anger problem that we had to be afraid of it. I wish I was healthy so I could just move away, but my disability is so severe that I really can’t do anything for myself and need the constant care. I don’t want to go to some nursing home – I’ve heard too many stories about that to trust it.

One time in the past when he exploded emotionally, I called a nearby shelter because it was having such an emotional impact on me. I told them about my physical situation and they said that they were not handicap accessible and referred me to another shelter. Neither shelter would be able to care for me in the way that I need it. I just don’t want to be alone in this world – it‘s not just emotional, I need a someone to physically protect me because I am that fragile. It sucks that my family sucks, but they’re all I’ve got right now and they’ve helped me in a lot of other ways.

In the news:

Via email from Ira G.: Minds Interrupted: Stories of Lives Affected by Mental Illness:

The three will be among eight Baltimoreans who will discuss the ways in which mental illness has wreaked havoc with their lives in a program called “Minds Interrupted.”

Participants wrote and edited their intimate, sometimes funny, often harrowing tales at a recent workshop that included tips on performance skills. Tickets will be sold to the show, which is being held at Center Stage, and which was modeled on the popular Stoop Storytelling series in which nonactors tell seven-minute-long anecdotes about their own lives.

The hybrid nature of “Minds Interrupted” can be perplexing: Is the evening a high-minded attempt to publicize a vexing and misunderstood social problem, or is it entertainment? And can the two categories successfully be mixed?

Five benchmarks for social assistance [Canada]

The next bold move the government must make is to stick to its guns on a comprehensive review of Ontario’s broken social assistance system.

The commitment to review Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program – made in the province’s poverty reduction strategy last December – has been agonizingly slow to get off the ground.

With the first anniversary of the strategy quickly approaching, more and more Ontarians are being forced to deplete their savings and join Ontario’s swelling welfare rolls.

As the province moves to more effectively employ resources to meet people’s needs and promote economic recovery, we can no longer afford to wait.

Student beaten to death in his Sac State Dorm Room

Scott Hawkins had Asperger syndrome, a form of autism, “that made him very obsessive about his favorite things,” his father said. He especially enjoyed studying ancient European and Middle Eastern history and was hoping he could graduate with a minor in one of those areas, his father said.

“He could go on and on about the history of Rome or the reasons that the Greek empire did this or that,” Gerald Hawkins said.

The attack was reported just before 2:30 p.m. Wednesday when one of the dorm’s resident assistants called police after hearing a loud disturbance coming from one of the suites.