By Colin Perkel THE CANADIAN PRESS
TORONTO — A former senior prison manager testified Wednesday that she was unaware of any orders given to guards about when to enter the cell of a teenager who choked herself to death as they watched.
In often halting testimony, Joanna Pauline told the Ashley Smith inquest she had no memory of management discussions about the issue.
Pauline, the former deputy warden of Grand Valley Institution in Kitchener, Ont., said she could not remember seeing a report in which a frontline officer fretted about a manager’s order to stay out of Smith’s cell as long as she was breathing.
“He should not have been giving that direction,” she testified.
Even though Smith, of Moncton, N.B., and P.E.I., was a high profile, high needs inmate, Pauline said she could barely remember meeting her in person, their conversations, or even whether the teen was polite.
Other witnesses have been fiercely critical of Pauline’s management style and approach to dealing with Smith, who was prone to self-harming.
In her evidence at the inquest in June, the chief psychologist at the prison, Cindy Lanigan, said Pauline badgered and denigrated underlings constantly in a “reign of terror.”
Lanigan also said Pauline pressed her to change recommendations on how best to keep the disturbed teen safe to align with those of correctional managers, who played down just how critical Smith’s situation was.
On the stand, Pauline displayed little of the self-described “dynamic and energetic individual” of her resume.
What she did recall was her fractured relationship with the warden, Cindy Berry, who cut her out of management meetings and called her an “administrative assistant” with no vision for the institution.
“I found that quite disrespectful of me,” Pauline said.
Pauline was intimately involved in discussions about how best to deal with Smith, who was prone to self-strangulation with ligatures and disruptive behaviour that taxed frontline guards. She did say she was told Smith was simply badly behaved and not mentally ill.
Yet she was unable to remember reports describing the teen as clearly showing the effects of suffocation or tell coroner’s counsel much about Smith’s self-harming.
“I think it was ligature use and head banging,” she said.
Asked about a guard’s report on Smith she reviewed prior to testifying, Pauline said:
“The part about her face was purple, that concerned me.”
Smith’s increasingly aberrant behaviour in segregation had drawn attention of higher-ups at regional and national headquarters.
In an email to Pauline in August 2007, as Smith returned to the prison for her second stay, Berry told her Grand Valley would be “under a great deal of scrutiny.”
“The commissioner has taken an active role in this case,” Berry wrote.
Pauline said she was “glad” at the interest because she believed it would mean more resources for the short-staffed prison.
Smith, 19, who had been shunted from prison to prison in the year prior to her death, strangled herself at Grand Valley in October 2007.
At the time of Smith’s death, senior management had sent 38 memos warning guards against unnecessary interventions.