Ashley Smith's warden denies ordering guards out of cell
Cindy Berry tells Ontario coroner's inquest front line prison staff can assess situation
The acting warden at the Grand Valley Institution in Kitchener, Ont., at the time of New Brunswick teenager Ashley Smith's death denies she gave any direction to staff to delay entering Smith's cell if she were using a ligature to choke herself.
Cindy Berry is testifying Tuesday, for the second straight day, at a corner's inquest in Toronto that is looking into the October 2007 death of Smith, who was 19 when she used a piece of cloth to choke herself to death in her cell.
Guards watched from outside Smith's cell as the mentally ill teenager died. The inquest has heard from numerous witnesses over the months that Berry had issued an order for guards not to intervene unless Smith had stopped breathing.
But under cross-examination Tuesday, Berry repeatedly denied ever giving such an order.
The inquest under Dr. John Carlisle has heard from more than 50 witnesses since beginning in January. It resumed in September after a 10-week summer recess.
Berry testified Monday that two weeks after she took over as warden of Grand Valley, prison staff compiled 240 hours of overtime in dealing with Smith. Staff would enter her cell each time they saw her with a piece of cloth around her neck.
Berry said there were times when the cloth wasn't tight and guards could have talked her into giving it up.
She said it is a policy of Correctional Service of Canada for guards to use their expertise, experience and training to find other options in dealing with prisoners if there is no medical emergency.
In questioning Berry, Jocelyn Speyer, the lawyer for the coroner, read part of one staff member's report on an incident involving Smith less than a month before her death.
"Did you see Smith's face turn colour to a dark purple slash bluish colour? This information was shared with the other staff and verified on camera," said Speyer.
"What caused you to conclude that there was not a need to enter the cell and that staff should have retreated to reassess once they saw that the inmate was not in medical distress?"
Berry responded that she put more importance on what she saw on the videotapes staff recorded than on their written notes.
Puts onus on front-line staff
The inquest has also heard testimony that it was during Berry's leadership that actions changed and staff were only to enter Smith's cell if she was clearly under medical distress. Berry testified that meant if there was a clear risk of serious harm or death.
On Tuesday morning, Berry repeatedly stated it is up to the front-line staff to assess the situation.
While testifying on Monday, Berry struggled to recount the day Smith died.
"I went down to the unit, the EMTs [emergency medical technicians] were there, giving her CPR," said Berry in an emotional voice.
While many witnesses have been critical of Berry as the person who gave the directive not to enter Smith's cell unless there was an emergency, she portrayed herself as having the full support of her superiors at the Correctional Service of Canada.
Berry said she was pressured to take the job with the hope she would become the permanent warden since she was doing such a good job in dealing with Smith.
Berry said she frequently updated national headquarters on Smith's situation, and was given feedback and suggestions on what to do. She testified she had never before had that amount of direct interest from her superiors in a prisoner.