Smith inquest hears tape of guards being told not to intervene

A coroner's inquest into the prison death of Ashley Smith heard tape recordings Wednesday of a senior manager instructing guards not to go into the Moncton, N.B., teenager's cell despite her having ligature around her neck and a nose bleed.

Former deputy warden testifies warden ordered her to tell staff about the new policy for Moncton teen

Some explosive tape recordings were played at the coroner's inquest into the prison death of Moncton, N.B., teenager Ashley Smith on Wednesday.

The tapes feature the then-deputy warden of the Grand Valley Institution, Joanna Pauline, saying it was a good thing guards did not go into Smith's cell to prevent her from choking herself and asking a staff member to change her report about an incident.

Smith, 19, died in October 2007 after she tied a piece of cloth around her neck while guards stood outside her cell door and looked on.

Previous witnesses have testified that Pauline was among the senior managers who ordered staff not to intervene when Smith would tie ligatures around her neck, as long as the troubled teenager was still breathing.

Three recordings were played for the inquest on Wednesday as Pauline sat in the witness box.

The first was a phone call from a guard, asking whether to enter Smith's cell because she was asleep with a piece of cloth around her leg, which they believed she would later use to choke herself.

Pauline, who was the second in command, told the guard not to go in.

In the next call, Pauline tells a staff member to change her report because it will alarm headquarters that an inmate was left for 12 hours with a ligature around her neck.

The guard agrees and can be heard typing up a new report with the help of Pauline.

In the last call, Pauline is told how Smith had taken her gown off, stuck her head in the arm hole and twisted it around until her nose bled.

Pauline says "good" when she's told the guards did not go in to help.

Left out of decision making

Pauline testified it was the warden who ordered her to tell staff about the new policy not to go into Smith's cell unless it was a medical emergency.

She said by the fall of 2007, she was being left out of any decision-making.

Other staff were being chosen to fill in as warden when the warden at the time was away, and other managers were no longer reporting to her, said Pauline.

She said she confronted the warden and was told that she was no more than an administrative assistant; that she had no vision and the warden was going to strengthen the management team.

Pauline was hired straight out of university in 1985, with a bachelor of arts degree in psychology from the University of Regina, and worked her way up through the ranks until 2002, when she was hired as deputy warden for the Grand Valley Institution.

Little memory of events

Earlier in the day, Pauline told the inquest she couldn't remember much about that period. There were long pauses in her testimony and her answers often trailed off as she tried to recall details.

She was asked repeatedly if she knew what sorts of risks Smith presented that warranted her being in segregation all of the time. She said she doesn't remember.

She was then reminded and admitted that Smith took up a significant amount of her time. In fact, no other inmate has ever taken up so much time — about 90 per cent of managers' time, the inquest heard. Smith was the subject of daily meetings.

Pauline finally said she believes Smith was in segregation because she used ligatures around her neck and banged her head against the wall.

She said the management plan for Smith went from one page in May 2007, to four pages in August to a voluminous document by September.

However, she insisted it never dealt with how much time staff should wait before entering her cell to remove a ligature.

Pauline said Smith was a high profile case for the Correctional Service of Canada and that the commissioner had an active interest in Smith's file.

The Grand Valley Institution was told to send daily reports about Smith to national headquarters, she said, adding she was happy about that because she felt it would give the prison access to more resources.

Smith was sent to the Grand Valley Institution because staff at other facilities were burning out trying to deal with her, said Pauline.

The teenager was known to throw feces at staff, she said. Smith also managed to destroy a metal desk in her cell that was riveted to the floor, said Pauline.

Contradicts previous portrayal

Pauline's testimony Wednesday stood in stark contrast to the portrait other witnesses have painted of her.

She was repeatedly described by psychologists as being part of a reign of terror at the Grand Valley Institution.

She would denigrate people's skills and would run one what one psychologist described as a paramilitary organization. The inquest did get a glimpse of those allegations, however, through a draft memo to security intelligence officer LaunaGratton.

In an email to the then-acting deputy warden Nicki Smith, Gratton had threatened to go up the chain of command about being told to change her reports about Ashley Smith.

Pauline wrote Gratton: "I was advised that you threatened Nicki that you were going to call Bob Maclean. I do not take such threats lightly and if you are alleging an impropriety on behalf of GVI management, I'm deeply concerned. We will need to discuss this issue further on Friday."

Earlier this week, Nicki Smith, who is now the deputy warden at the prison, testified she was unaware of any orders to officers to stay out of Smith's cell as long as she was still breathing.

She said she has "no memory" of being asked directly by frontline staff for direction on the issue.

BrindaWilson-Demuth, a former warden, managed to avoid testifying on Tuesday.

She was slated to testify all day, but is currently on medical leave and sources say her doctors advised she should not be subjected to the stress of cross-examination because her health is fragile.

Lawyers for the coroner and other parties with standing at the inquest, including the Smith family, decided not to question her at all, opting instead for documented evidence, such as emails to other staff, be entered into the court record.

The inquest, which began on Jan. 14 and resumed on Sept. 9 after a 10-week break, has given a glimpse into the troubled teen’s time in the prison system before her death.

Smith was incarcerated for the first time at age 15. In the last year of her life, she was transferred 17 times among nine institutions in five provinces.

The inquest is scheduled to continue on Thursday with cross-examination of Pauline by lawyers representing the guards and the Elizabeth Fry Society.


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