Compassionate Response to Sudden Death

By Sara Faruqi, Toronto Police Service Published: 6:06 a.m. January 20, 2016
Updated: 12:49 p.m. February 24, 2016

It was a phone call Garry Howson will not soon forget.

A man in police uniform and another man in normal clothes stand next t each other in the hallway of a police station.
Constable Jermaine Watt and Garry Howson at 22 Division.

Constable Jermaine Watt was on the other end of the line, explaining that Howson’s brother, Greg, had suffered a sudden heart attack and that he should come to the hospital right away. 

Watt responded to the call for a man who had collapsed in a parking lot and escorted the ambulance to the hospital. He used the victim’s cellphone to track down a next-of-kin.

“He said get to the hospital as soon as possible. He said it wasn’t looking good, which I appreciated him saying because he was being very up front and honest with me. It gave me a better grasp of what was going on,” says Howson, of the officer’s steady hand in the moment. “You don’t realize until everything is over on how good he was. I am at a loss for words.”

By the time Howson arrived at the hospital with his wife and daughter, Greg had passed away. 

Since it was a sudden death, the family had to wait in the hospital until the coroner completed an investigation.

Watt stayed with the family, filing his report from his police car, and waiting until a detective gave him the clearance to return Greg’s belongings to the family.

“Garry was devastated. He had just spoken to his brother at noon. He was doing fine. So, it was hard for them. Greg never had any complaints. He was happy, so the family was devastated. It was so close to Christmas time, too,” says Watt, who says he did what any police officer would do in guiding them through the loss of their loved one. 

“So I stayed with them as long as I possibly could. I stayed in my car and did the report there. We had some property that I couldn’t release till it was cleared by my detective. I waited until the boss cleared it and gave it to them. They really wanted that phone because it had all the contacts on it. I wasn’t going to put it in property and have them come pick it up some other time from the station,” says Watt. 

Watt also stuck around until the coroner filed a report, because he knows the process can be confusing for most people. 

“I had to make sure they were looked after because they were a mess. Make sure they were okay, get them water, put them in a room. Explain to them what kind of questions they could ask the coroner,” says Watt, on why he stayed long after his shift was over. 

After helping the family, Watt finally went home. But he would encounter Howson again the very next day.

“The next day I was in my car, and I looked at my computer and saw that Greg’s partner was missing. I saw Garry’s name on the computer. The call had not been broadcast yet, but I called Garry up and asked him if everything was okay. He said ‘my brother-in-law is missing,’ so I said I would check the address,” says Watt, who did not find the partner at home.

When his shift ended around 1 a.m., Watt was leaving when he saw Garry show up at the station. 

Howson felt that his brother-in-law was in distress and may have needed help. He had not returned home and was not answering his phone.

“I felt bad for him, so I told him my shift had ended but I would come and look for him,” explains Watt.

If someone loses their family member, and they are devastated, then it is my job to make sure that they are okay.

That night, they were able to track down the brother-in-law. 

Howson was grateful for his help.

“Constable Watt had just finished his shift, however he continued to assist us and the oncoming officer.  Eventually my brother’s partner called and we again thanked Constable Watt for his genuine support and compassion.  Over the next two days, Constable Watt called me twice to check up on me and my family and see if he could do anything for us,” wrote Howson, in an email to the Service. 

“He also stopped by my brother’s house, where his partner is. He just phoned to say ‘I am coming over to see how you are, what do you like in your coffee?’ I mean who does this? Other than somebody who is a genuine wonderful human being as far as I am concerned,” says Howson. 

“I didn’t go out my way, I was doing my job,” says a humble Watt. “That’s what I do for every family, I don’t just do it for them, I do it for everybody. If someone loses their family member, and they are devastated, then it is my job to make sure that they are okay.”

Watt also connected Greg’s partner with Victim Services Toronto, a non-profit partner of Toronto Police, which provide resources to victims of crime or family members following a sudden death.

“I just reached out to him, to see if he is okay, see where his head is at. To tell him ‘listen we are here for you if you need us, we are not just here to arrest people… Let me know what you are feeling, I may not be able to help you but I can get you resources that can provide you with the help that you need,’” says Watt, noting it is his duty as an officer to assist victims to get help.

I will always be grateful to Constable Watt for the compassion he showed our family during a very difficult time

For Howson, however, it felt like Watt went above and beyond his job. 

“I wish I could share all this, the whole story with the world, because that is how I feel on the inside. I am genuinely overwhelmed by his sense of humanity and caring and comfort and compassion. I mean there are not enough words…” says Howson.  “His humility is credible, he is not pounding his chest saying ‘look at what I do,’ and he said he is doing his job. If we could all be like that, then the world would be a better place.” 

Howson said his brother was similar in his approach to life.

“My brother was an incredibly loved man because of how he treated people, friends and colleagues.  I will always be grateful to Constable Watt for the compassion he showed our family during a very difficult time,” says Howson.

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