'Our story is all too common': Family calls for inquest into death of inmate at Manitoba jail
WINNIPEG -- The family of William Walter Ahmo is speaking out after an incident involving corrections officers left him in hospital where he died a week later.
They are calling for an inquest and an independent investigation into his death, a call echoed by the Southern Chiefs' Organization.
On Feb. 7, RCMP said a 45-year-old inmate was reported to be unresponsive as a result of an “incident” with corrections officers at Headingley Correctional Institution (HCI) and the inmate was taken to hospital with life-threatening injuries. The inmate, later identified as Ahmo, died at the Health Sciences Centre (HSC) on Feb. 14.
The RCMP confirmed Ahmo's death on Monday.
Ahmo's family is now calling for "transparency, accountability and justice."
"The circumstances of Will being taken to hospital are suspicious, and we have heard disturbing reports about the behaviour of Correctional Officers prior to his death," the family said in a written statement.
The family said they had previously heard from Ahmo saying some officers treated several inmates, including himself, as "less than human."
"Our story is all too common. Will should not have been in jail and should not have been made a victim of Canada's racist justice system."
Details about the incident between Ahmo and corrections officers have not been released. The RCMP’s Major Crimes Section is currently investigating.
The family said they are calling for an independent investigation and they want the Chief Medical Examiner of Manitoba to call an inquest into his death.
"Not by the Winnipeg Police, the RCMP or the IIU, all of whom have shown that they cannot be trusted to ensure that justice is done,” the family's statement reads.
Ahmo's mother Darlene said her heart aches for her son.
"I am going to miss his big smile when he would come in and visit," she said as part of the written statement.
She said her son had good in him and loved his own son and didn't deserve to die.
His son Emory said in the statement that Ahmo was a "protector" for his family and that he wanted his family to find peace and happiness.
"I will miss my dad greatly, I only hope and pray that Canada and the Law will deliver justice to those who are responsible for his passing," he said.
Michelle Gawronsky, the president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union, which represents correction officers in the province, called for an investigation,
"It is critical that there be a formal investigation to find out what happened, and that the investigation is completed before we draw conclusions," Gawronsky said in a statement, adding the province should make counselling resources available to those involved.
"As the union, MGEU will fulfil our responsibility to ensure that Correctional Officers involved are treated fairly throughout the process.”
In a statement, Manitoba Justice said it recognizes the seriousness of “any death in custody,” and will conduct an internal review, but said it cannot comment further due to the active RCMP investigation.
The death has also been reported to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
“We offer our condolences to the family of this individual,” the statement reads.
Grand Chief Jerry Daniels with the Southern Chiefs' Organization is also calling for an investigation into Ahmo’s death.
“I am deeply saddened and angered by the initial thoughts I have about how William was treated and ultimately how he died,” Daniels said in a statement. “Here we are, starting another week looking into how one our citizens has been taken from us while in the supposed care of colonial systems.”
Daniels added, “There is absolutely no time to waste in this matter and we will spare no avenue that leads to answers and true justice. Make no mistake, everyone from the staff at HCI to those providing care at HSC must provide clarity and be held accountable.”
This was echoed by Grand Chief Arlen Dumas, of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, who called Ahmo’s death tragic.
- With files from CTV's Danton Unger and Rachel CrowSpreadingWings.