POLITICS

'I feared that I was going to be demoted,' deputy warden testifies

09/26/2013 04:00 EDT | Updated 11/25/2013 05:12 EST
TORONTO - The former deputy warden of a prison in which a teenager choked to death said on Thursday she was following orders in directing guards to stay out of her cell unless the inmate was in medical distress.

In a second day of testimony, Joanna Pauline said the orders on dealing with Ashley Smith came from the warden, Cindy Berry, a woman the deputy formally accused of harassment.

"I did feel under pressure," Pauline told inquest jurors.

"I feared that I was going to be demoted."

Still, Pauline denied putting her career aspirations ahead of Smith's well-being, and said the approach was endorsed by Correctional Service of Canada brass, who were watching closely.

It was important, she said, that everyone followed the management plan for the disturbed teen which essentially involved ignoring Smith if she was acting out.

Asked if the approach was misguided, she demurred.

"Ashley is dead," Pauline said. "The plan didn't work."

Smith, 19, of Moncton, N.B., choked herself to death in her segregation cell at Grand Valley Institution in Kitchener, Ont., in October 2007, as guards videotaped but did not intervene.

Despite increasingly frantic concern among the officers that Smith would strangle herself, Pauline had sent underlings numerous memos critical of them for going into the cell to save the inmate.

Pauline denied a guard warned her the cell-entry directive was "unlawful" and "stupid."

Given the memos, guards became increasingly reluctant to enter Smith's segregation cell, even when she was turning blue or purple from ligatures around her neck.

"I didn't realize that's what I was doing," Pauline said.

"The intent of the direction was to ensure compliance with policy and procedure."

Four days before Smith died, the prison psychologist warned Pauline the teen had become severely suicidal.

That same night, Pauline told a prison manager worried that Smith would kill herself on his shift to stick to the management plan.

"I didn't have that authority to discontinue the plan," she testified.

"I believed the plan was working."

Howard Rubel, the lawyer representing the guards' union, said a bureaucratic mindset blinded managers to Smith's dire situation.

"We have the triumph of organizational policy over common sense and human decency," Rubel told the hearing.

"I'm not going to say there was no common sense," Pauline responded. "We were trying."

In July 2008, police investigating the death ahead of charging four guards criminally — the charges were later dropped — asked her why officers had hesitated to go into Smith's cell.

Pauline made no mention of her memos to them or disciplinary action taken against them for intervening to save the inmate.

"I don't know. I thought to myself: What were they thinking?" she told the investigating officer.

"You were throwing (the guards) under the bus, weren't you?" said Smith family lawyer, Julian Roy.

"No. I am human and I'm not perfect, but I certainly cared deeply for them."

The inquest has heard how regional and national headquarters were unhappy with the number of reported incidents involving Smith. The prison's senior management felt the need to minimize the situation.

Pauline said she told police Correctional Service of Canada was positioning itself to deflect blame for Smith's death because she felt "very betrayed" by the organization and she would be scapegoated.

She admitted the number of incidents in which guards used force was considered a "performance measure" for senior managers and could have affected their bonuses.

Berry is due to testify on Monday.