06/26/2013 03:09 EDT | Updated 08/26/2013 05:12 EDT

Reports of force routinely falsified at prison where teenager killed herself

TORONTO - Falsification of records at federal prison began well before a teenaged inmate who killed herself in her segregation cell arrived in the spring of 2007, an inquest into the death heard Wednesday.

Launa Smith, a member of the senior management team, testified the warden of Grand Valley Institution ordered her on several occasions to alter reports to avoid scrutiny from higher ups.

As security intelligence officer, Smith, who was known as Launa Gratton at the time, reviewed incidents to see if guards had followed proper procedures.

The warden, Brinda Wilson-Demuth, didn't want the reports flagged by regional or national headquarters as indicative of a problem at the prison in Kitchener, Ont., the inquest was told.

"I was being told that what I thought was a use of force was not a use of force," Smith testified.

"I was told to report them as non-use of force."

In the late spring of 2007, Wilson-Demuth was promoted to the highest position in the women's directorate of the federal prison service in Ottawa.

Even so, Smith testified Wilson-Demuth phoned Grand Valley to ask that she alter a report.

Smith said she followed orders, but did complain about them, including to people at regional headquarters. Nothing was done about the altered reports.

When the new warden, Cindy Berry, arrived, the practice ended and Smith's reports, signed off by her superiors, began showing a dramatic increase in use-of-force incidents.

As a result, pressure started from regional headquarters about the frequency force was used at Grand Valley.

Almost all the reports related to Ashley Smith, 19, who was running frontline staff ragged by tying ligatures around her neck in her segregation cell.

During Smith's first stay in the spring of 2007, guards intervened every time she choked herself without repercussions.

However, senior management in the fall of 2007 began repeatedly reprimanding guards for intervening too quickly to save her.

Smith denied knowing anything about a directive to staff to refrain from entering the teen's cell as long as she was still breathing.

"The staff were to go in when they felt she needed assistance," she said.

"The officers that were there had to make that determination when they were go to in."

On the day Smith choked herself to death as guards hesitated to go into her cell, Launa Smith, Berry and deputy warden Joanna Pauline reviewed a videotape of the incident before turning it over to police investigators.

"Either Joanna or Cindy commented on why are they not going in," Smith testified.

It was the only time the three senior managers commented that guards had not intervened quickly enough.

"They knew right away who to blame," said Julian Roy, lawyer for Ashley Smith's family.

Smith admitted she wasn't entirely forthcoming in telling police when they interviewed her about the death, saying she could not explain why.

She did deny that she was adhering to a correctional code of silence, and claimed to be oblivious to the frustrations among guards about the orders they were given.

Neither she or anyone in senior management made any effort to provide new directions to staff even after viewing a video of one incident that foreshadowed the teen's choking death four days later on Oct. 19, 2007.

The inquest adjourned until after Labour Day, when Pauline, Berry and Wilson-Demuth — among other senior correctional employees — are slated to testify.