'I thought she was getting better': Nurse on duty recounts final moments of Breanna Kannick's life

A nurse who led the resuscitation efforts on Breanna Kannick who died in a jail cell almost three years is testified at an inquest into her death Tuesday.

Breanna Kannick died in 2015 while at the White Birch Remand Unit in Regina

The White Birch Remand Unit for women is located on the west end of Regina at the Paul Dojack Youth Centre. (Arielle Zerr/CBC)

A nurse who led the resuscitation efforts on Breanna Kannick, who died in a jail cell in 2015, testified Tuesday at an inquest into Kannick's death.

Kannick died in the White Birch Remand Unit on Aug. 20, 2015. 

Jennifer Berjian is a registered psychiatric nurse who had been working at the facility when Kannick was in custody. 

Berjian said she did 4-hour split shifts, and depended on corrections workers to be her "eyes and ears" while she was away. 

She also testified to be not being allowed to visit the inmates unsupervised.

She testified to seeing Kannick at different times, giving her Motrin, Gravol and kaopectate to deal with opioid withdrawal. 

Breanna Kannick was brought into custody for failing to appear in court on drug possession charges. She was unresponsive in her cell. (Breanna Kannick/Instagram)

Withdrawal seemed normal, no red flags, nurse says

Berjian testified to coming into work at about 7 a.m. the morning of Kannick's death. She said the overnight workers raised no concerns about Kannick's well-being and that Kannick was experiencing a normal withdrawal. 

Jurors heard in earlier testimony that two bags of vomit were removed from Kannnick's cell the night before her death. 

Berjian told the jury she requested to see Kannick before she was taken for a court appearance in Moose Jaw, but workers told Bejian she had to wait as they were busy getting some of the women ready to leave.

She testified to hearing from one of the officers that at one point, Kannick had been on the floor of her cell seemingly throwing a "temper tantrum" about going to court, but did eventually go back to her bed. 

Jury shown video of Kannick's fall

The jury heard it was after Kannick's death that Berjian learned Kannick had fallen down and hit her head in the cell.

"I was shocked when I saw it," she said of a video she was shown afterward.

Seconds of that surveillance video depicting the moment Kannick fell was shown for the jurors Tuesday.

It shows after she fell, she remained on her back.

Berjian testified no one saw Kannick's fall at the time.

During cross-examination, Berjian said based on the information she had about Kannick at the time she wouldn't have done things differently. 

However, she said had she know about the fall, she would have assessed Kannick for a head injury.

Berjian said she only went to Kannick's cell after being alerted black liquid was coming out of Kannick's mouth and nose.

It was awful, she told the jury on Tuesday, saying she had never seen anything like it before. 

After arriving at the cell, she recalled sitting down beside Kannick on the bed and rubbing her back.

She testified to telling Kannick emergency services were being called. Kannick rolled back on the bed, Berjian testified. 

Last moments

"She looked exhausted," Berjian said.

She said Kannick was breathing.

Berjian testified she ran back to the unit's clinic to grab her nursing bag and blood pressure machine. She said when she returned she checked Kannick's blood oxygen, which was quite low. Then, she used a simple oxygen mask on her. 

She said Kannick's oxygen levels came up. 

'There was no pulse'

"I thought she was getting better," Berjian testified. 

She said she went to check Kannick's blood pressure and the arm she was trying to put a cuff on was stiff. 

Berjian said she then saw her oxygen was at zero.

"There was no pulse," she testified.

Kannick's mother and aunt left the room, coming back moments later. 

CPR on bed, not floor

Berjian said she told the two officers who were in the cell with her to start CPR. She said she kind of panicked. 

The jury heard Berjian and the officers did two-person CPR on Kannick on her bed while they waited for emergency services to arrive. 

"It seemed like forever for the ambulance to get there," Berjian said.

When asked by a lawyer why she didn't put Kannick on the floor to do CPR, Berjian said, "I didn't want to take time." She said there was vomit on the floor and she did not have a full picture of what had happened to Kannick. 

The inquest will resume Wednesday morning at 9:30 am.

About the Author

Stephanie Taylor

Reporter, CBC Saskatchewan

Stephanie Taylor is a reporter based in Saskatchewan. Before joining CBC News in Regina, she covered municipal politics in her hometown of Winnipeg and in Halifax. Reach her at stephanie.taylor@cbc.ca