Guards in constant conflict over treatment of Ashley Smith
Corrections officers testified at inquest that they often disagreed with orders
Two corrections officers who were responsible for Ashley Smith in the months leading up to her death testified on Wednesday that they were in constant battles with management about how the Moncton teen should be treated.
Kerry Kostos and Janet Bertrand were both guards at the Grand Valley Institution in Kitchener, Ontario, in 2007, in the months leading up to Smith's death.
Smith died in October of that year 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.
Kostos told the inquiry that she made note of instructions from her superior on June 19, 2007, telling her not to enter Smith's cell as long as she was breathing, talking or moving.
"That was direction I had never heard before. It was direction that I thought was absurd. It was direction that infuriated me. I thought it was a dangerous game to play with her," Kostos testified.
She said she wasn't in the habit of keeping her opinions to herself, and told her supervisor exactly what she thought.
"That direction was ridiculous. We talked about it a lot. He said, 'I want you to understand why I'm saying this,' and I said 'I understand why you're saying this' and he kept saying, 'She just came back from St. Thomas, she's playing a game with us, we know it's behavioural, it's not mental health issues so stop giving her attention.'"
Kostos testified she continued to question her supervisor about the directions.
"He said, 'Well Kerry, if anything happens to her it'll be on me, not you, because I'm the one giving you direction.' And my response to that was — excuse my language — but I said, 'That's bullshit and you know it.'"
Directions ignored by some guards
Kostos said the orders from management to leave Smith alone as long as she was breathing were a constant topic of conversation at the prison.
Janet Bertrand testified that she was often posted outside of Smith's cell door and said she also ignored the orders not to intervene or interact with Smith, often telling jokes or playing games with her.
"I'd say a word, then she'd have to say the first word that came to her mind, and the first word I said was apple, and her comment was mailman, and I didn't know why. And she told me that she threw apples at a mailman and that was one of her original crimes," Bertrand said.
She told the jury she would also give Smith more than the allotted amount of toilet paper and allow her to eat chips straight from the bag.
Bertrand said she always went into Smith's cell when she felt she was in medical distress, cutting ligatures from her neck numerous times.
She said she was never formally reprimanded but said even after Smith died, her supervisor was scolding her for not following his directions.
"I was wondering why he was calling me now as Ashley had already passed away, and then he said, 'I was told to call you to tell you that you entered the cell too early,' and my comment was, 'Well, at least she was alive at the end of my shift,' and then I hung up the phone on him."
Decisions not in Smith's best interest
Bertrand said she believed decisions about how Smith was treated were made based on numbers rather than what was best for the teen.
She explained that every time a team of officers entered Smith's cell, a report had to be filed.
"We were going in too early and causing too many use-of-force reports, we had the most use-of-force reports in the region and it did not look good for a female institution."
Bertrand worked at the Grand Valley Institution temporarily and was not working the day Smith died.
She recalled the last time she spoke with her.
"She told me that she loved me and that she was going to miss me, and that she wanted to play basketball with me on Monday."