An inquest has started in the death of Delilah Blair, 30, who died on May 21, 2017, inside the Southwest Detention Center (SWDC).
The jury of three women and two men will determine the circumstances of Blair’s death, and come up with recommendations for how to prevent similar deaths in the future.
Blair was arrested on April 4 and charged with attempted robbery and carrying a weapon.
She stayed in the female mental health unit until she was moved to segregation after she destroyed her cell.
Blair pleaded guilty to the charges against her on May 12 and was to be sentenced on May 30. By then, she was back living in the female mental health unit
On May 21, Corrections Officer James Wright came on duty for the evening shift.
Wright told the jury he didn’t have a “rapport” with Blair because he had very few interactions with her.
On the day of her death, Wright says Blair was upset when she found out a TV remote was removed from her unit. When it was brought back, Wright told the jury “she settled down.”
In a video shown to the jury, Blair can be seen skipping back and forth across the unit, just 40 minutes before she was found unresponsive in her cell.
Wright told the jury he was on his second security check of the hour when he noticed something wasn’t right.
Wright said Blair’s back was to the door, facing the window and her right leg was “sprawled” out at an “uncomfortable position.”
When she didn’t respond to his calls, Wright entered her cell.
The jury evidence heard Blair’s prison-issue blanket had been ripped into strips, tied in three to four knots and “draped” over the bookcase in her cell.
Wright says Blair’s body was hovering over the floor and he tried to relieve the tension of the blanket.
“I squatted down and picked her up as high as I could,” he told the jury.
Wright’s partner entered the cell and the men were able to get Blair to the ground, so one could begin CPR and Wright tried to remove the blanket from her neck.
Wright told the jury they do not carry knives with them, but one is available at the officers’ observation deck, more than 10 feet away from the cells.
In a surveillance video shown to the jury, within minutes 11 jail staff were on the unit, and most inside the cell, trying to save Blair’s life.
Firefighters and paramedics were on the scene within 13 minutes.
Wright described the incident as “traumatic” while offering his condolences to Blair’s family.
The family’s interest is being represented by four lawyers with Aboriginal Legal Services. Blair is of Cree ancestry.
Legal director Christa Big Canoe asked Wright if he was aware of a policy directive in December 2016, stipulating security checks be conducted three times in 60 minutes.
Wright told the jury, in 2017, it was the jail’s practice to conduct two checks every hour but he says, in 2018, they increased their checks to three in 60 minutes.
CTV News has reached out to the Ministry of the Solicitor General for confirmation of the policies at the time of Blair’s death.
A jury in a coroner’s inquest cannot assign blame or fault for Blair’s death. Rather, they are challenged to come up with recommendations for how to prevent similar deaths in the future.
Inquest co-counsel, Jonathan Lall asked the jury to also consider, “did the people who needed to know, know what Delilah Blair needed” in the weeks after she was arrested and before she died.
When laying out a broad look at the evidence, Lall told the jury he will call evidence from another inmate in the female mental health unit, doctors and nurses who work at the jail plus social workers.
“Delilah Blair requested, repeatedly, in writing, to speak with her mother,” Lall told the jury. “Those requests, it appears, were not addressed.”
On May 21, Wright told the jury he was assigned to three different units, including female segregation and female mental health.
But when assigned to the men’s mental health unit, Wright says there are two dedicated corrections officers, because there are usually more inmates in that unit versus the female unit.
He said when an inmate expresses suicidal thoughts they are put on suicide watch, which can either be constant or a 10-minute check cycle.
The jury has yet to hear if Blair had expressed any mental health issues to the officers in the hours leading up to her death.
The inquest will resume Tuesday with the testimony of Blair’s mother, Selina McIntyre.
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