Corrections staff scared to report force used on Ashley Smith

A former Correctional Service of Canada warden told the Ashley Smith inquiry Wednesday some employees were scared to talk about allegations of the use of force against the Moncton teen.

Former warden tells inquest officer and nurse were intimidated through emails, calls

CBC's Jennifer Choi reports on the latest developments at the coroner's inquest into the death of Ashley Smith 2:21

A former Correctional Service of Canada warden told the Ashley Smith inquiry Wednesday some employees were scared to talk about allegations of the use of force against the Moncton teen.

Smith had alleged a supervisor at the Regional Psychiatric Centre in Saskatoon was aggressive toward her, using his knee to pin her down.

Janet-Sue Hamilton, who wrote a 30-page report on disciplinary actions used against Smith, testified that a correctional officer and a nurse who witnessed the incident initially left out those details in their reports to officials.

They were intimidated by others not to come forward, said Hamilton.

"A lot of phone calls, a lot of hang ups in the middle of the night sort of thing. There were some inappropriate emails that were being sent, threatening them in terms of — 'Coming forward with this information, do you realize what this means?'

"They did mention there was a term called parking lot adjustment, and that meant that sometimes your tires might be slashed on your vehicle so they were worried about that as well," she said.

The correctional officer and nurse did eventually come forward with written reports stating a supervisor was aggressive toward Smith when he used his knee to pin her down, said Hamilton.

"They told us, as an investigation team, that there would be retaliatory actions for them coming forward," she said.

"They were distressed because they had broken the code, so to speak, of not being silent when their peers committed some sort of act that wasn't appropriate. And they were worried about the fallout and the repercussions of coming forward."

Smith was 19 when she died at the Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener, Ont., in October 2007, after she tied a piece of cloth around her neck while guards, who were ordered not to intervene, stood outside her cell door and watched.

She had been undergoing intensive psychiatric treatment at the Saskatoon facility, but was transferred out in early 2007, shortly after a supervising guard was charged with assaulting her. The guard, John Tarala, was later found not guilty.

Still, Hamilton said she found some of the evidence shocking.

"It was more disturbing when we started to look at the video tape, to be honest, that was the part that sort of, as a group, we were taken aback by," she said. "So going through that was pretty difficult actually to watch."

Hamilton said Smith was concerned for her safety after reporting Tarala to officials at the prison. Hamilton was concerned for Smith as well, she said.

Had been making progress

Cindy Presse, chief psychologist at the centre, told the inquiry on Tuesday she didn't foresee any problems with retribution against Smith.

"We're not perfect by any stretch, but they are a good staff, they do take their job seriously, they are a professional staff, so I would not anticipate that the correctional officers on duty would be doing anything adverse towards her," she said.

Presse said prison officials wanted to transfer Smith to err on the side of caution.

"I understood that that would just be the frosting on the cake, it would just push things too far," she said.

Smith had been making progress before being transferred out, Presse said.

The inquest, which started on Jan. 14, has heard testimony from Smith's mother, several guards and a prison supervisor who said they were uncomfortable with orders to ignore Smith and not enter her cell to remove ligatures around her neck as long as she was breathing.

Smith was first incarcerated at age 15.