'Shocking' video shown at inquest into inmate's death
Warning: This story contains details and images some people may find disturbing
The second day of a coroner's inquest into the death of Justin St. Amour began with the screening of a grim, silent video showing the moments before and after he hanged himself in his cell at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre.
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St. Amour, 31, died eight days later, on Dec. 8, 2016, at the Ottawa Hospital.
The inquest has heard that St. Amour suffered from severe mental illness and struggled with drug abuse. He was described as a difficult and volatile inmate with a history of self-harm who often threatened suicide, but had been taken out of segregation and off suicide watch before he hanged himself.
On Monday, the coroner's counsel told the inquest that the video, which was recorded just after 6 p.m. on Nov. 30, 2016, would not include footage of the hanging.
The video was then shown Tuesday.
Guard at cell door
The grainy recording shows St. Amour alone in a jail cell, where he paces back and forth before pulling a sheet from his bed and tearing it into strips.
A correctional officer can be seen through a window on the cell door and appears to speak with St. Amour before leaving.
St. Amour then begins to braid the long strips of torn sheet into a rope.
The guard returns several times to speak with St. Amour through the window of the cell door while St. Amour moves about the cell.
The video then cuts to St. Amour lying unresponsive on the floor of his cell, surrounded by jail staff and paramedics who are attempting to revive him.
WARNING: The following video, which has been edited, contains images some viewers may find disturbing.
'Disturbing and shocking'
"The evidence we saw today was disturbing and shocking," said Paul Champ, the lawyer representing St. Amour's mother at the inquest.
"As we saw, the guards were indifferent to their duty to keep him safe."
The hearing room was silent as the video was shown. St. Amour's mother, Laureen St. Amour, who watched the video with her lawyer the evening before, stayed away while it was shown Tuesday.
The correctional officers on duty that evening are expected to testify before the jury on Friday.
Psychologist downgraded suicide watch
The jury also heard a taped interview with Alyna Reesor, former head psychologist at the jail.
Reesor told the coroner's lawyer, Tom Schneider, that St. Amour suffered from severe mental illness and struggled with drug abuse, and described him as a difficult and volatile inmate with a history of self-harm who often threatened suicide as a means of getting attention or extra food from the guards at OCDC.
You can never be 100 per cent certain that someone is telling you the truth they are not suicidal.- Alyna Reesor, former head psychologist at OCDC
Reesor told Schneider she downgraded suicide precautions on St. Amour from constant watch to regular watch because his behaviour and demeanour had improved markedly since she started working with him, and he had assured her he was not suicidal.
Reesor said she thought she had forged an "established trust" with St. Amour, and said she was "happy for him because he'd come a long way in changing his behaviour and exercising control."
At one point during the interview, Reesor could be heard breaking down in tears.
"You can never be 100 per cent certain that someone is telling you the truth they are not suicidal," Reesor told Schneider. "There's no blood test for that."
A coroner's inquest does not assign blame; its purpose is to come up with recommendations aimed at preventing future deaths.
Need help? Here are some mental health resources in the National Capital Region:
- Association québécoise de prévention du suicide: 1-866-APPELLE (1-866-277-3553).
- Ottawa Suicide Prevention: 613-238-3311
- A previous version of this story stated Justin St. Amour died in hospital on Dec. 6, 2016. In fact, he died on Dec. 8, 2016.Apr 09, 2019 5:24 PM ET
- A previous version of this story stated Reesor lifted the suicide watch. In fact, she downgraded suicide precautions on St. Amour from constant watch to regular watch.Apr 16, 2019 3:58 PM ET