Two years after his death, the family of a mentally ill man who died after being beaten by guards in an Ontario prison is suing the province and the correctional officers, alleging that they used excessive force that cost him his life.
In a press release on Wednesday, Soleiman Faqiri’s family said that a key witness had come forward with information that suggested possible criminality in the 30-year-old’s death, which had been ruled out by the Kawartha Lakes Police Service when they investigated it in 2017.
“Since my brother was killed, my family has been suffering,” said Faqiri’s older brother Yusuf in a statement. “The Central East Correctional Centre should have protected Soleiman, but they failed him and us.”
“While in segregation, a place he never should have been, Soli’s mental health deteriorated significantly,” Yusuf Faqiri continued. “We are seeking accountability and justice for Soli. We do not want anyone else to go through what we have been through. Soleiman meant so much to us. His death will not be ignored.”
Before being transferred to a new cell, Faqiri was first taken to shower, where guards said he was throwing bottles of shampoo and spraying them with water. During the walk from the shower to the cell, something agitated Faqiri, according to the statement of claim.
“It is unclear what transpired to trigger the use of force,” said the statement. “It is anticipated that at least one witness will testify that a guard whispered something in Soleiman’s ear which caused him to become tense.”
Faqiri, who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, died after guards allegedly pepper sprayed him, punched, kicked and stomped on him as he was being transferred to a new cell—he was handcuffed and defenseless at the time, said the statement of claim.
The Kawartha Lakes police never interviewed the witness who has come forward despite being aware of him, the statement said. As a result, the criminal investigation was re-opened in November, and is being conducted by the Ontario Provincial Police.
The witness, a former inmate named John Thibeault, who was in the cell across from the one in which Faqiri died, told The Fifth Estate that he was too scared to speak to investigators at time since he still had time left to serve. After he was released, however, Thibeault said he tried to contact police, but was never interviewed.
A coroner’s report found that Faqiri had suffered more than 50 injuries to his face, torso, and limbs that were caused by blunt impact trauma and that he was “involved in a physical struggle with probably emotional agitation and pain prior to his death.” Until now however, the cause of his death has been “unascertained.”
“Soleiman’s ultimate death was directly related to the negligent actions of the defendants who used excessive and inappropriate force against him,” said the statement, which names the province, the jail’s superintendent, and a seven correctional officers as defendants.
Thibeault told The Fifth Estate he saw a guard press his knee on Faqiri’s neck and yell at him to “stop resisting” even though he “wasn’t moving at all.”
The family is seeking $14.3 million in damages, alleging cruel and unusual punishment, battery, negligence, and abuse of public office.
Faqiri was arrested in Ajax in 2016 after allegedly stabbing a neighbour with an "edged" weapon during a schizophrenic episode, and subsequently held in segregation for several days while his mental health continued to deteriorate, says his family.
He was waiting to be transferred to a mental health facility when the altercation with the guards happened, according to the statement of claim.
“The correctional officers who escorted Soleiman to his cell and proceeded to subject him to a physical attack far exceeded the scope of force that they were permitted to use in the course of their duties,” said the statement.
“At the time of his death, Faqiri had not been convicted of any crime. He had evident mental health issues and should not have been placed in administrative segregation as a method of managing his illness.”
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