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B.C. university security guard guilty of manslaughter

A Trinity Western University security guard restrained Howard Hill after he was reported rifling through student rooms. Hill died in hospital after being taken off life support.
The incident happened on Sept. 30, 2020 at Trinity Western University in Langley.

A B.C. Supreme Court judge has ruled a university security guard did not intend to kill a student residence intruder and has found him guilty of manslaughter.

Justice Catherine Murray said Jack Cruthers Hutchison did not intend to kill Howard Hill on Sept. 30, 2020 at Trinity Western University (TWU), a private Christian university in Langley.

“That is not a defence to manslaughter,” she said.

In her April 26 decision, Murray said the black-clad Hill was wandering through various student residences, rifling through rooms.

Events occurred when COVID-19 restrictions were still in place.

“All classes were online,” Murray said. “With few exceptions, the campus was restricted to staff and students who lived in residence. Resident students were permitted to have one guest that was pre-registered. Social distancing protocols were in place.”

Murray said Hill “seemed out of it,” and students concerned for their safety and belongings called security.

Hutchison was the only security guard on duty that day. It was not a scheduled work day and he was filling in for a sick colleague.

Hutchison was first unable to find the man but then spotted him and called out for him to stop.

Hill began to run.

“Mr. Hutchison tackled Mr. Hill and took him to the ground. Mr. Hutchison placed Mr. Hill in a neck restraint and held him there until police arrived,” Murray said. “When police finally got there, Mr. Hill was unconscious. He died in hospital a couple of days later after he was taken off life support.”

The Crown’s theory was that the incident was an assault and Hill died as a result of an unlawful act.

Hutchison argued he was acting in self-defence and defence of others and that the force he used was reasonable in all the circumstances.

“Alternatively, Mr. Hutchison claims that harming Mr. Hill was an accident as he did not know that with his hold he was exerting pressure on a critical artery,” the judge said.

At the time of the incident, Hutchison was 51. He was five feet and four and a half inches tall. He weighed 150 pounds and was physically fit.

Hill was 30 years old, six feet and three and a half inches tall and weighed 194 pounds.

“He was a person who experienced schizophrenia. He had not taken his medication for approximately five months,” Murray said. “He was not a student at TWU, nor was he authorized to be in any of the student residences.”

Murray said she accepted evidence that Hill hit Hutchison several times in the head, spat in his face, and tried to knee and headbutt him.

“I further accept that Mr. Hill threatened to kill Mr. Hutchison,” she said.

Murray said she accepted Hutchison did not intend to hurt Hill and certainly did not intend to cause his death.

However, she said, the question was whether restraining Hill in a headlock for a prolonged period of time was reasonable in all of the circumstances.

She found once Hill stopped resisting, he was no longer a threat and ruled Hutchison’s continued restraint disproportionate to the situation.

“Accordingly, I am satisfied that Mr. Hutchison committed the unlawful act of assault,” she said, adding the intentionally applied restraint had a foreseeable risk of bodily harm.

“I reject the defence of accident and find that the continued and prolonged use of the headlock was objectively dangerous in the circumstances,” she said.

A pathologist testified the prolonged pressure on vital blood vessels on the right side of Hill’s neck cut off blood flow to his brain causing brain damage, unconsciousness and ultimately his death.

“I have no doubt that Mr. Hutchison legally caused Mr. Hill’s death by holding him in a headlock for an extended period of time thus exerting fatal pressure on vital blood vessels in Mr. Hill’s neck,” Murray said.