Jail guard says he warned superiors inmate would hang himself

A former corrections officer at the Ottawa jail says he alerted his superiors that Justin St. Amour was threatening to kill himself with a braided rope less than half an hour before he took his life.

Warning: This story contains details and images some people may find disturbing

Justin St. Amour died in December 2016 after hanging himself at the Ottawa Carleton Detention Centre. A coroner's inquest is currently looking at the circumstances of the 31-year-old's death. (Facebook)

A former corrections officer at the Ottawa jail says he alerted his superiors that Justin St. Amour was threatening to kill himself with a braided rope less than half an hour before he took his life.

St. Amour, 31, hanged himself with a noose on he fashioned from his bed sheet in his segregation cell at the Ottawa Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC) on November 30, 2016. 

He died eight days later.

Prior to his death, St. Amour had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder and a mild intellectual delay. He was also addicted to opiods

A coroner's inquest is currently looking into St. Amour's death. 

Abdul Henriksen had only been a corrections officer for a few weeks when he was assigned to the segregation unit to check on St. Amour.

The inquest was shown two videos Friday in which Henriksen describes telling fellow officers and his duty manager about St. Amour's condition.  

Between 6:19 p.m. and 6:38 p.m., Henriksen went to St. Amour's glass cell door and spoke with him four times.  

"He said he was going to hang himself if he didn't get to talk to the sergeant," Henriksen told the inquest. 

"The first thing I did was try and calm him down."

This still from a video played at the coroner's inquest into the death of Justin St. Amour shows corrections officers Andrew Estrela (bottom), Scott McKenzie (top left) and Abdul Henriksen (top right).

'I'd never dealt with anything like this'

Henriksen said he told Scott McKenzie, a veteran corrections officer, about the inmate's threat. He in turn told him to pass the information on to the duty sergeant.

Before doing so, Henriksen checked again  on St. Amour, who by then had ripped up his bed sheet.

"I asked [St. Amour] to put the sheet through the hatch," Henriksen said. "But he refused."

Henriksen said he told the sergeant St. Amour wanted to see him — and if he couldn't, he'd hang himself.

"I may not have told [the sergeant] it was a noose, but I said he was braiding his sheet and was making a rope to hang himself with," Henriksen said.

Henriksen was asked by the coroner's counsel, Tom Schneider, why he didn't call other officers for help or push the nearby emergency button — especially after seeing St. Amour braid the sheet, tie it around his neck and attach it to the cell's sprinkler system.

"I wasn't really aware of how to deal with the situation, and I'd never dealt with anything like this in my life," Henriksen said. "I was relying on those more familiar — my senior officers."

On his final visit to St. Amour, Henriksen got him to take the noose down but couldn't convince him to push it through the food hatch. 

Less than 10 minutes later, St. Amour tied the rope up again and hanged himself.

Henriksen only worked four more shifts as a corrections officer at OCDC.  

"I lacked certain skills in addressing this situation," Henriksen told the jury. "I wish I could have done more to prevent his suicide and save his life."  

'Didn't show urgency'

McKenzie, a 17-year veteran, told the inquest he felt his colleague could have done more.

He said he knew St. Amour had tried to strangle himself in the past, and that Henriksen had told him he was making similar threats that day.

McKenzie said Henriksen never told him St. Amour was crafting a noose, however. While the officer did mention St. Amour's bed sheet, McKenzie said he didn't make much of it because he "wasn't aware they had been ripped and made into a rope."

McKenzie said Henriksen's demeanour was "calm and not panicked" and that he "didn't show any sense of urgency."

He also told Schneider that a suicide threat would be deemed an important matter — with certain reservations.

"It's also used at times by inmates to get things," he said. "But it's taken seriously."

In testimony on Thursday, corrections officer Andrew Estrela — who was working with Henriksen and McKenzie that night — repeatedly said he had no recollection of St. Amour's suicide threat or a noose being made from the bed sheet.  

The duty sergeant Henriksen referred to is scheduled to testify Monday. 

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