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19-Year-Old Inmate Kills Herself While Prison Guards Videotape [Video]

Ashley Smith, 19, killed herself in her cell while guards videotaped.

In 2007, 19-year-old Ashley Smith killed herself in her jail cell. Now, by request of the coroner, a jury watched a videotape of the girl’s death, which depicts prison guards standing outside her cell, watching and videotaping the teen as she struggles to breath, then dies.

The teen had tied a piece of cloth around her neck in an attempt to asphyxiate herself to death. The video, filmed by one of the guards, depicts other guards standing outside Smith’s cell, watching her choke. As the girl lie face-down in her cell, heaving, the guards wait and watch.

A full ten minutes later, they enter the room, to find the girl dead. Although the guards at the Grand Valley Institute for Women attempted to perform CPR on the lifeless teen, one of the guards is heard swearing, saying that it had been over ten years since their last CPR training.

The girl’s dying gasps can be heard in the video, which begins at 6:45 am, while guards stand outside her cell and discuss what to do.

Apparently, it wasn’t the first time the girl had tried to harm herself, and the guards had been warned to intervene only if the girl stopped breathing.

Ten minutes after Smith’s face allegedly turned a dark purple and she stopped heaving, the guards rushed in and tried to revive her by slapping her in the face. When they got no response, they began CPR.

The camera was being operated by Valentino Burnett, a correctional officer who was temporarily working at the Grand Valley Institute. While the guards were initially charged in the case for their role in the girl’s death, the charges have since been dropped. Now, the footage of the teen’s suicide are being made public.

Burnett maintains his innocence in the events, claiming, “While I was videotaping her, I saw her chest rising on a number of occasions. I saw her breathing on a number of occasions. As far as I was concerned, I was videotaping a live person.”

He added that it was “not his job” to save her life.

Howard Rubel, a lawyer for the correctional officers union, maintains that the guards were only doing what was ordered. Rubel insists that the guards struggled with how to deal with Smith, who repeatedly tried to harm herself.

‘They were following what they were told was in the best interests of Miss Smith and they were trying to help her as much as possible to prevent the tragedy, but unfortunately, they weren’t allowed to prevent that tragedy as they saw fit,’ he said.

Smith had been in isolation from August 2007 until her death in October. She was first arrested at the age of 15 for “assault and causing a disturbance,” and was then jailed at 17 for throwing apples at a post man.

The presiding coroner has also said the inquest should examine the way the prison system treats the mentally ill. The Smith family lawyer, Julian Falconer, notes that the guards have no excuse for Smith’s death.

“Human beings are human beings; good people do bad things. On that day, a group of guards did bad things.”

Kim Pate, who heads the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, says the video is disturbing but needs to be shown at this inquiry.

“It’s important that the public sees the video, in large part because many people don’t believe this sort of thing happens inside.” CBC News goes on to describe the prison where Ashley was held, where she slept on an all-metal bed and was let outside one hour per day to the “yard” — described as a slab of concreted surrounded by barbed wire fences.

When asked if there were no spaces in the prison for mentally ill inmates, Toni Simoes — who led the jurors through a tour of the prison — said that there were other spaces.

“But Ashley never saw those spaces,” Falconer countered.

What do you think the guards should have done?

Warning: GRAPHIC CONTENT in video

[Featured image from Shutterstock]

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33 Responses to “19-Year-Old Inmate Kills Herself While Prison Guards Videotape [Video]”

  1. Delores Johnson

    Tie a cloth around all of the guards necks and when they've stopped gasping for breath, go in and SLAP their faces. UNBELIEVEABLE!

  2. Wendy Maddy

    why were those charges dropped? someone is going to murder all of those guards for killing that girl! for all we know, they strung her up and enjoyed it in the first place!

  3. Barry Cogdill

    Valentino Burnett, you are a POS. It is not your job to save the person. What good are you? You should be tried for murder. While an ionmate is in custody, you are responsible for EVERYTHING to ensure that persons safety and health. Maybe they should let you hang.

  4. Lana Zemler

    What disturbs me the most is, she went to prison for throwing apples as her second offense! and the saying has finally come true "The Insane are running the Asylum".

  5. Ramera Since

    Suicide is for the weak. Should've put her in a place where she couldn't harm herself.

  6. M Marie McVey

    So let me get this straight. Ashley went to jail (the last time) at 17 for throwing apples at a postman. At 19, she's still in jail and has been trying to kill herself, and finally succeeded. WHO GETS TWO YEARS IN JAIL FOR THROWING APPLES? A CHILD who is mentally ill DOES NOT BELONG IN JAIL AT ALL, but a mental institution where she can get help, not punishment for being sick. I hope to God those officers who just watched and videoed her dying go to prison for murder, along with the person that ordered them to stand down and let her kill herself. This is unexcuseable.

  7. Shelia Powers

    This happened in 2007, when W. was prez. But, actually Reagan was president when funding for mental health care was cut drastically. Most mental hospitals closed down. That's why the jails are full of mentally ill people, like the girl in this article. Its horrible. Most barely feed the inmates. For profit prisons. Screwed up situation. Hope the healthcare system might help stop some of the suffering.

  8. Carrie Holzhauer

    I'm pretty sure she didn't get 2 years for throwing apples. This was her second offense but they say she was the worst inmate they had so she probably repeatedly got in trouble and got more time added to her sentence. But you are right, if she was so troubled and constantly trying to hurt herself than she needed to be evaluated and sent to a mental hospital if this was a mental issue and not a case of just wanting attention like they said.

  9. Terri Hellerich

    What kind of asshole could stand there and watch someone die and then cold-heartedly say, "it's not my job" to care? Is he a human being or not? What a pussy, loser piece of crap, waste of human DNA.

  10. Tom Buckholz

    Zach Goss what like killing yourself? yeah she really tricked them with the old "im mentally ill". you idiot.

  11. Kim Holleman

    @Carrie Holzhauer WHAT THE FUCK IS THE MATTER WITH YOU? ARE YOU FUCKING STUPID? "if this was a mental issue and not a case of just wanting attention like they said." So just to recap, you think someone committing suicide after languishing in jail after 2 years is just attention seeking, "like they said". Ok, so why don't you take a long walk off a short peer, "I say it's ok", so it must be, right?

  12. Jessica Morris

    it is the person's job to hold the video camera and DO NOTHING else! He did his job correctly. As sad as this story is, the video camera man did what he was directly ordered to do.

  13. Dana Singleton

    The guards were not medical professionals and were absolutely not qualified to make life/death decisions.. sounds like an example of "lethal stupidity" on the part of the prison power structure.

  14. Deborah Young

    wait a mnute….they were told not to interfere? what kind of BS is that? 2yrs. for throwing an apple? frigg'n child molesters don't do that much time… what if she wants attention…and to stand there and listen to her last gasp for air….and then go in and play the hero…..the guards and who ever gave the instructions not to interfere should be fired……how can you look at yourself in a mirror? knowing you killed someone.

  15. Deborah Young

    wait a mnute….they were told not to interfere? what kind of BS is that? 2yrs. for throwing an apple? frigg'n child molesters don't do that much time… what if she wants attention…and to stand there and listen to her last gasp for air….and then go in and play the hero…..the guards and who ever gave the instructions not to interfere should be fired……how can you look at yourself in a mirror? knowing you killed someone.

  16. Leslie Fernandes

    Claiming it's "not my job" to save her life is disgusting, she's a human, a child and to sit back and watch her hang herself and do nothing is a crime. I hope you lost your job and that her parents sue you over her death. This young woman was obviously mentally ill and did not belong in jail, rather a facility to help her and to PROTECT her from herself and others. Our society is in a major decline, humanity is failing.

  17. Maryjane Kush

    guards should be charges just if they were dr keverkian aka dr death because they assisted in her suicide. I hope her parents file a lawsuit for 100 million USD.

  18. Nicholas Brady Richardson

    This is going to seem like a cliche answer but, hey, so were the US Marshals who apprehended fugitive slaves and the Gestapo. Sorry, but no job, no orders from up top, no authority, no bossman should be more important to you than a suffering human being trying to end their life, especially when stopping it would have been relatively easy. I notice you're a correctional officer yourself- do they teach you that your job and protocol are more important than human life?

  19. Richard Jorgensen

    She wanted to die, she made it. Congrats and let us move on. Obviously no lose to the world.

  20. Frank Lopez

    The guys' comment is the ULTIMATE "NOT MY JOB" statement. HOW INHUMANE. It's not my job to save her life? Are you kidding me? It has to be in your f'ing job description to be a human being and save someone obviously in need of some serious aid? What the hell is wrong with people. PUT THE CAMERA DOWN AND GET HER SOME HELP DUMBASS. Oh, that just burns me up!

  21. Jeffrey Sacks

    And there is the disconnect .. don't know u.. don't care .. Breaks my heart on a daily basis .. Same tribe HUMAN !!! One planet one people so much godamn fear … Just reach out once .. you very well might be amazed when u extend human decency to another…people please .. our dance here is short … make it beautiful where u can , or
    at least don't be indifferent.. at some point u are going to need the same compassion u have withheld from another…

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