The Ashley Smith inquest is back at Grand Valley Institution and moving up through some of the chain of command…..
Last week was Janice Sandeson, who I looked forward to hearing from again. She testified the first time – right before that inquest attempt crumbled into dust – and gave a couple of terribly memorable (read: ludicrous) statements during her testimony. Unfortunately, the inquest ended before she was cross-examined …. I would have enjoyed seeing the lawyer for the family cross examine her on those points, I think. In any case, although inclined to be somewhat less than truthful – as evidenced by the many times she contradicted her own testimony – this time, Ms. Sandeson managed to avoid any of those sorts of huge gaffes this time ’round.
This week we are hearing from Eric Broadbent, who was the manager of the max unit where Ashley Smith was held and ultimately died while Corrections Officers – many of whom he directly supervised – watched. Mr. Broadbent is not at all the sort of man I expected. He is smaller, less forceful. He seems a rather mild-mannered, soft-spoken, apologetic sort of man. And yet…
His name has come up a great many times through the previous testimonies given by those who worked with Ashley at GVI. The directive to not enter the cell as long as she was breathing was repeatedly attributed to him. He is also the individual who – against all regulations and practices – took Ashley from a pod on one floor, where she had smashed a television and suitcased shards of glass, and deposited her back in the segregation cell.
This incident with the television was a key contributor to Ashley’s death as it gave her the ability to produce ligatures at will….and of course the directive to not enter her cell as long as she was still breathing was also a key contributing factor to her death…. but no, to hear him tell it, Mr. Broadbent had nothing whatsoever to do with Ashley’s death.
Of course he never gave such a directive, nor continued to insist on it when challenged by others. Of course, he did nothing whatsoever wrong in moving Ashley between units the way he did.
And all sorts of bits of other people’s testimonies, and written reports (OSORs) where he is specifically mentioned, he “can’t recall.”
And he has no idea at all why there are no minutes about “after-after-ops” meetings… and no idea whether a ligature and a purple face might mean that someone is “in distress.” Doesn’t know how long someone can go without breathing, either….. No idea about SO many things, on cross examination.
He apparently attended an entirely different training session with Ken Allen than everyone else who was there, also… go figure.
I understand that the lawyers are required to treat all witnesses with respect no matter how ludicrous their testimonies are – but I sure don’t envy them!
It seems highly unlikely that the actual directive to not enter the cell as long as Ashley was breathing actually originated with Mr. Broadbent – but it is clear, his own testimony aside, that he did in fact both follow it, and demand that his staff do so as well. It is also quite clear, in my opinion, that he persisted in insisting that it be followed even when staff argued against it, that he disciplined/counseled staff when they did enter cells when, in his estimation, they should not have, and that he did nothing whatsoever to ensure that Ashley Smith would not die at GVI.
The fact that he did nothing whatsoever to challenge the directive – never mind that he actively supported it – is particularly heinous when taken with the knowledge that he had built relationships reportedly based on trust with Ashley, and with her family, and in particular, her mom, Coralee. Coralee stated, during her testimony earlier in these proceedings, that Eric Broadbent spoke to her by phone several times, and even went so far as to assure her, at least once, that she did not need to worry, he would take care of Ashley.
He made a promise. And he broke it.
And when Coralee called him after Ashley’s death, and left a message asking him to return her call, he did not even have the decency to do so for “fear of interfering in the investigation.”
There are many people that this inquest has heard from that I am able to – almost – feel sorry for. They did not do the right thing….they did not save Ashley’s life…they withheld the warmth she so desperately needed because they were told to do so….. and some of them even were there on the 19th of October, 2007 and watched her die…. and yet, I can empathise with them… understand how incredibly hard it must have been to be part of such a sick & corrupted system… hoping that I would have railed against it, done something different than they did – but knowing that there is a good chance that I might – had I found myself in their shoes – have been sucked in the way they were.
I think that I would have walked away if I were unable to change it rather than stay – because that is what I have done in previous situations – it’s why I no longer work in mental health care in Ontario.
But I can feel for them.
I feel no such empathy for Mr. Broadbent. He made a promise to Ashley’s mom. And he had a duty, in his role as a correctional manager, to ensure that – whether he was on the floor or not at the time – Ashley Smith continued to breathe. He failed.
And to watch him sit there and absolutely and 100% refuse to accept even the tiniest bit of responsibility for that failure because he wasn’t there when Ashley Smith died? That is just infuriating. Absolutely, 100% infuriating.