'Death video' guard tells Ashley Smith inquest about arrest stress

The Canadian Press

TORONTO - A prison guard talked today about the shock he felt at being arrested in the death of a teenaged inmate.

At the Toronto inquest into the death of Ashley Smith, Rudy Burnett said he found himself at a police station being grilled about his involvement.

Burnett was pressed into videotaping the choking death of Smith in her cell at the Grand Valley Institution in Kitchener, Ont., five years ago.

He says he felt he was being treated like a criminal but had done nothing wrong.

Burnett was charged with criminal negligence and failing to provide the necessaries of life but the charges were dropped.

On Monda, jurors saw video of the frantic last-ditch efforts to save Smith, 19, after she tied a ligature around her neck in her segregation cell.

But the efforts by the guards were too late to save the Moncton woman, whose dying gasps are audible in Burnett's video.

Burnett was a fill-in guard from another institution who had just completed a night shift and was about to go home.

Pressed about why he didn't intervene, he insisted he was just doing his job and following orders.

"If an order is given to me and I don't agree with it, there's a grievance procedure," he said at one point.

He also said he had seen assaults and other ugliness as a guard.

"It's very traumatic," he said Tuesday.

"Over the years, you do sort of get desensitized."

He said he had a strong family and his church to keep him grounded and to help him maintain a sense of himself.

In a perfect world, Burnett testified earlier he would intervene to try to save a life but in a correctional world, it's a different story.

Burnett was initially charged with criminal negligence in Smith's, but the charge was later dropped.