Police brutality alleged prior to Edmonton remand inmate death

Jonathan Wayne Lee Anderson, 40, was pulled off life-support last Saturday at the request of his family. They want to know why he suffered multiple injuries when he was arrested in January by Edmonton police and are calling for an investigation.

Family of Regina rap artist calls for independent investigation

Jonathan Anderson, 40, died in hospital last weekend after trying to hang himself while incarcerated at the Edmonton Remand Centre. (Shawna Oochoo/Facebook )

Friends and family of an underground music artist who hanged himself at the Edmonton Remand Centre are calling for an inquiry into the events leading up to his death.

Jonathan Wayne Lee Anderson was taken off life-support last Saturday at his daughter's request,

His former wife was in the hospital room, and said she's also concerned about the injuries Anderson suffered before his death.

"How did it get to the point where someone would hang themselves?" Shawna Oochoo asked from her home in Regina. "I don't know exactly what occurred to him. The broken bones, the missing teeth. All of that will be in the autopsy." 

On the street, Anderson went by the name Tommy Da. He was an underground music artist and rapper with a lengthy criminal record. 

Oochoo admitted Anderson lived a high-risk lifestyle.

"The cops wanted him," Oochoo said. "They were always after him because of the lifestyle that he lived. He was on the run from Regina [police] and he was also on the run in Edmonton."

An Edmonton police spokesperson confirmed Anderson was wanted by police for a number of robberies in December 2019 and January 2020 involving firearms. Patrycja Mokrzan told CBC News that after an extensive investigation, a search warrant was executed at an Edmonton residence on Jan. 14, 2020. 

An application of force was required-Patrycja Mokrzan, Edmonton Police Service spokesperson-Patrycja Mokrzan, Edmonton Police Service spokesperson

"When clearing the residence, members found Mr. Anderson hiding in a confined space," Mokrzan said. "He refused to follow directions to exit from the space and an application of force was required to remove him and effect his arrest." 

Mokrzan said Anderson was taken to hospital for medical treatment. 

More than a month later, Anderson posted a message about his injuries on Facebook from the Edmonton Remand Centre. 

"So now I'm sitting behind walls with a broken shoulder a ruptured bicep a torn rear delt (sic) 3 broken ribs a broken hand and missing teeth and may have lost the use if (sic) my arm because of police brutality I endured and suffered," he wrote. 

Oochoo said Anderson told her much the same thing by phone. 

"He felt that the Edmonton police used excessive force," Oochoo said. "He said that he felt that he was handled very poorly and that he wasn't handled fairly." 

Shawna Oochoo was with her former husband when he was taken off life-support at an Edmonton hospital. (Adam Hunter /CBC)

The province's Director of Law Enforcement was not notified by Edmonton police about the use of force. 

"It did not meet the threshold to warrant notification," Mokrzan said. 

Attempt to escape custody

Six weeks after the arrest, on March 4, two remand centre correctional officers escorted Anderson to the University of Alberta Hospital for a medical appointment. 

Oochoo said an officer told her what happened when Anderson was being removed from the prisoner transport van. 

"He basically informed me that Jonathan had a knife concealed in his cast and he had stabbed the two officers that were escorting him and they sustained some injuries as a result of that," Oochoo said. 

A remand centre source told CBC that Anderson escaped and ran to a nearby taxi, pulled the driver out and locked himself in the cab. The keys were not in the ignition. 

The source said officers broke one of the car windows, but Anderson escaped again and ran into a nearby building, where he briefly took a Children's Services employee hostage. Using pepper spray, the officers were able to handcuff Anderson and take him back into custody. 

A justice department spokesman confirmed the two correctional officers and Anderson suffered minor injuries and received medical care. 

"An internal review of the incident was launched and once completed will be reviewed to determine what, if any, changes to procedure need to be made," Katherine Thompson wrote in an email to CBC News.

Court records show nine criminal charges were laid against Anderson as a result of the March 4 incident, including robbery of the taxi driver, unlawful confinement of the government worker, escaping lawful custody, possession of a weapon and four counts of assaulting a peace officer. 

'We were in shock'

Anderson was returned to the Edmonton Remand Centre and placed in a segregated cell on the medical unit. 

The next day he was found hanging in his cell. 

He was rushed to the Royal Alexandra Hospital on March 5. It took remand centre officials almost a week to reach a family member. 

"We got a call stating that Jonathan was in the hospital and that he put me down as his spouse," Oochoo said. "And that me and my daughter needed to go to the hospital because there were some decisions that needed to be made."

Serenity Anderson and Jonathan Anderson in an undated photo. (Shawna Oochoo/Facebook )

She and her 19-year-old daughter, Serenity Anderson, rushed to Edmonton from Regina. They were horrified by what they saw when they arrived at the hospital. 

"We were in tears," Oochoo said. "We were in shock. We couldn't believe what we were seeing in front of us. To see him in such a critical state and such a state of vulnerability really broke my heart. It broke my daughter's heart." 

Last Saturday, the decision was made to take Anderson off life-support. He died a short while later. 

In a 2015 documentary posted on YouTube, Anderson said: "If my life is on the line for something, the only reason I'm going to stay alive is because of me and I know that." 

"Sometimes," he added, "I'm going to lose."

John Anderson's music video from Youtube

2 years ago
Duration 0:32
Anderson posted this video on Youtube under the name 'Tommy Da', he was a former remand centre inmate who was pulled off life support on Saturday March 14.


Janice Johnston is an award-winning journalist in Edmonton who has covered the courts and crime for more than two decades. You can reach her at janice.johnston@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @cbcjanjohnston