Family demands investigation after inmate dies following incident at Headingley jail

The family of William Walter Ahmo is demanding a "truly independent" investigation into his death, which they blame on correctional officers at Headingley Correctional Institution.

Truth must come out, family says, casting blame at correctional officers for death

William Walter Ahmo's family is demanding answers as they mourn his death, which resulted from injuries he sustained while in custody. (Submitted by Darlene Ahmo)

The family of William Walter Ahmo is demanding a "truly independent" investigation into his death, which they blame on correctional officers at Headingley Correctional Institution.

Ahmo, a member of Sagkeeng First Nation, died on Sunday after what police called an "incident" with the jail's corrections officers on Feb. 7.

He was unresponsive while being taken to the intensive care unit at Health Sciences Centre with serious injuries.

"We will fight to make sure the truth comes out. We will fight to ensure that the guards who did this to Will, and the ones who failed to protect him, are held accountable for their actions and inactions, and we will fight to make sure that no other family has to go through what we are now going through," says a news release issued on the family's behalf.

The news release calls the circumstances surrounding the 45-year-old's trip to the hospital "suspicious," and says the family has heard "disturbing reports about the behaviour of correctional officers" before his death.

The statement does not explain what allegedly occurred at the jail.

Local police shouldn't lead investigation: family

In addition to an inquest, which is mandated by law following an in-custody death, the family is asking for an independent investigation into Ahmo's death. They say Winnipeg police, RCMP and the Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba cannot be trusted.

Manitoba Justice said on Tuesday it would be conducting an internal review of the incident and the death has been reported to the chief medical examiner.

The family is declining to speak at this time, but expressed their grief in prepared statements. 

"My heart aches for my son Will," his mother, Darlene Ahmo, said.

"My son had good in him, he loved his son and he didn't deserve to die this way."

William Walter Ahmo was seriously injured at Headingley Correctional Institution on Feb. 7. He died a week later in hospital. (Travis Golby/CBC)

His son, Emory, said his father was a protector for his family in dark times. He said his father found the beauty in life, despite the prejudice and racism he experienced from law enforcement and corrections personnel.

"I only hope and pray that Canada and the law will deliver justice to those who are responsible for his passing," Emory said. 

"Time and time again, Indigenous peoples are shown to be a minority within minorities; justice is not seen and we are forgotten."

Will's sister Dara Ahmo said her brother's mistreatment cannot be shrouded in secrecy. 

"We can't allow this to be hidden underneath the covers this time. These inmates are no less human than we are and deserve to be treated with dignity," she said.

"My brother had a lot of good and love in him, he did not deserve this."

A news conference will be held at a later date, the news release said. 

The Southern Chiefs Organization is also calling for an immediate investigation into Ahmo's death.

"There is absolutely no time to waste in this matter and we will spare no avenue that leads to answers and true justice," Grand Chief Jerry Daniels said in a news release.

"Make no mistake, everyone from the staff at [Headingley Correctional Institute] to those providing care at HSC must provide clarity and be held accountable."

Sagkeeng First Nation Chief Derrick Henderson told CBC in an interview Monday that correctional officers were watching over Ahmo while he was in hospital. The family was unable to visit his bedside until the night he died, owing to COVID-19 restrictions, he said. 

The RCMP major crimes unit, RCMP forensic identification and Headingley RCMP are investigating.