A correctional officer at Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener, Ont., told an Ontario coroner’s inquest on Thursday that "everybody knew" Ashley Smith's life was in danger.
Vince Barone worked at the institution and was a local union representative when the Moncton teen was a prisoner in the fall of 2007.
Barone, who was under examination by Jocelyn Speyer at the coroner’s inquest, said he expressed his concerns to others at the prison in the days leading up to Smith's death.
'Inmate Ashley Smith, she's going to die at this institution. We all knew it was high risk. Everybody knew.' — Vince Barone
The 19-year-old woman would frequently tie ligatures around her neck and officers were told not to intervene unless she stopped breathing.
Barone testified in front of the inquest about what he told another worker 10 days before her death.
"Inmate Ashley Smith, she's going to die at this institution. We all knew it was high risk. Everybody knew," he said.
Speyer asked Barone how his colleague responded to his concerns.
"She didn't say. I think we all understood the situation we were in was getting worse," he said.
Smith was first incarcerated at age 15. She was 19 when she died at the Grand Valley Institution for Women 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.
The Ontario coroner’s inquest started on Jan. 14 and 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.
Warden advised of concerns
Barone also said he sent an email to his union outlining his concerns, just six days before Smith died in her cell.
Barone said he told the institution’s warden, Cindy Berry, at the time he would rather go to court defending why he went in to the cell rather than why he didn't intervene in time.
Julian Roy, a lawyer working for the Smith family, asked Barone about the warden’s response to his concerns.
"Now, when you made the reference that you did to testifying at trial about Ashley to Warden Berry, a reference to her dying, did Warden Berry respond with any concern or compassion for Ashley's situation?" the lawyer said.
"She shut me down, saying this is not the place or time for this," Barone testified.
Berry was fired shortly after Smith's death.