TORONTO – A regional manager sent by correctional authorities to train guards struggling to deal with a teen inmate’s increasingly aberrant, self-harming behaviour, testified Monday he never told them to stay out of her cell if she was still breathing.
In fact, Ken Allan said he wasn’t qualified to offer the guards advice on when to intervene, something they desperately wanted to know.
“I wasn’t there to tell them what to do with Ashley Smith,” Allan told the inquest into her death.
“I tried to make it as generic as possible without bringing Ashley Smith into the equation.”
Allan, who was based out of Kingston, Ont., was sent to Grand Valley Institution in Kitchener, Ont., for three days in October 2007 to provide use-of-force training to front-line staff dealing with an increasingly desperate situation.
On dozens of occasions, guards had gone into Smith’s segregation cell to cut off ligatures from her neck only to be second-guessed by management.
Higher-ups had deemed many of the interventions unnecessary, resulting in dozens of “counselling” or reprimand memos directed at guards.
“There was no need to enter her cell,” was a phrase that came up frequently in documentation of such incidents.
As a result, correctional authorities sent Allan to offer guards training on use of force, though he said he was totally unqualified to give such instruction.
Guards at the sessions pressed him to talk about Smith, and how to tell whether she was in distress and needed to be rescued.
“I wasn’t prepared to go there. I couldn’t help,” he said.
“I don’t tell staff to make that decision. That’s what they’re trained for.”
Instead, he said, he offered a generic reminder of a “situation management model” that requires staff to assess and reassess the situation in deciding on a course of action.
Now retired, Allan told the inquest he knew Smith was flirting with disaster with her self-harming.
“Ashley was playing a dangerous game and I wanted staff to be aware, to watch, and negotiate, to continuously be on guard.”
At one point, Allan told the inquest under Dr. John Carlisle he would have intervened if he saw an inmate turn purple from a ligature around her neck – as occurred frequently with Smith.
“Why didn’t you just tell (the guards) that?” asked Smith’s family lawyer Julian Roy.
“They have to rely on their training,” Allan responded. “It’s common sense.”
At the same time, he said he believed guards sometimes intervened with her too soon.
He cited one incident where Smith was hamming it up for the cameras by walking around with a ligature, asking, “How do you like my tie?”
Smith, 19, of Moncton, N.B., choked herself to death Oct. 19, 2007, in her segregation cell as guards stood outside and watched.
The guards have previously testified they were under orders not to intervene as long as Smith was still breathing. Several mentioned Allan in connection with those orders.
“The name Ken Allan has come up a lot,” Roy said. “‘If she’s breathing, why are you going in?’ Numerous staff have said that you said that, and numerous staff said that got their attention.”
“It’s not something I would have said,” Allan responded. “It’s not logical.”
He also denied suggesting to guards that if Smith died, it would be deemed “death by misadventure” for which they would not be blamed.
The inquest continues.
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