A fight for Samantha: Corner Brook mother suing N.L. judicial system

Troy Turner/CBC

Lisa Piercey likes to talk to her daughter, Samantha. 

She explains to Samantha her motivations, her every intention and why she continues to fight the judicial system. 

The conversation is always one-sided, however. 

Samantha has been dead since May 2018.

"I keep asking her: Baby, why did you have to die so changes could come?" Piercey says. "And, to some extent, I think that's her compassionate side (working)."

Samantha died alone in a cell at the Clarenville women's penitentiary. According to the prison report, she hung herself from a ceiling vent using a bed sheet. 

Samantha was only at the prison for a month or so before taking her life. 

Piercey is suing the provincial department of Justice, psychiatrist Dr. David Craig and the superintendent of prisons for more than $1.5 million in damages. She hopes the lawsuit is an important step in accountability at the correctional facility.

"It should have been: 'So sorry, let's work together to find out what happened to your daughter.' But, no, everything is just hidden. They have the attitude: We told you your daughter is deceased, now bury her and move on. You don't need to know nothing else. You don't need to know why or how it happened. That's the attitude they're taking and it's wrong. It's so wrong."

Samantha was at the Clarenville penitentiary for an alleged breach of a court order and assault.

Troy Turner/CBC

Timeline leading to her death

According to Piercey's statement of claim, Samantha underwent a suicide risk assessment while at the Corner Brook detention centre about a month before she died. It found she was under distress as she indicated she wanted to take her own life. A day later, while still in Corner Brook, she attempted to kill herself by slashing her wrists, the court document said.

Samantha was transferred to Clarenville on April 26, 2019, where another suicide risk assessment was completed.

According to the statement of claim she was considered a risk for self-harm but did not express a plan to kill herself. 

On May 15, according to the court document, Samantha was seen by Craig, who determined she was not suicidal.

Eleven days later, Samantha had a verbal conflict with a fellow inmate and she was disciplined — confined to her cell. 

According to the statement of claim this made her "totally snap." 

The document says Samantha was overlooked during the inmate count at 8:30 p.m.

At 9:15 p.m., she was found dead.

"I really believed when she went there she was going to get the help she needed, the help she deserved," Piercey said. "And to find out differently there was nothing there for her — it angers me."

Samantha had a long history with mental health issues. According to Piercey, her daughter didn't receive proper treatment during her stay in Clarenville.  

"She wasn't just an inmate, she was my baby," Piercey said. "She had two babies of her own. And she was so compassionate. She was the first one there to offer help to somebody. And you're treating her like she's nothing. We're nothing ... And that's wrong, that's wrong on so many levels."

Troy Turner/CBC

In the days immediately following Samantha's death, Piercey says she was unable to get answers on the details of her daughter's death, even as to when her body would be transported home. Since then, she said nothing has changed.

"I'm her mom and I'm still sitting here and don't know what happened to her and you can't call me. It should have been: 'So sorry. Let's work together to find out what happened to your daughter.' But everything is just hidden."

Piercey is guarded with her words. She said more information will be made public once the matter is before the courts. Right now she's focused on the lawsuit, and how to best provide answers to Samantha's children. 

"(Her) little girl has often said, 'Why didn't they look after Mommy?' And, 'Nanny, I don't think they're sorry that they didn't look after Mommy. Why aren't they telling me they're sorry? Why won't they speak to me.' She doesn't understand," said Piercey. 

A statement of defence has yet to be filed in the lawsuit.

Piercey figures it will be 3-5 years before the matter is settled.

She doesn't know what will happen, and some days she wonders if the fight is worth it.

However, a good night's sleep and her energy and determination are always renewed.

She's doing it to make changes, and to keep her daughter's memory alive.