3 women sought protection orders against firefighter charged with sexual assault

A Winnipeg firefighter and martial arts teacher charged with sexual assault was the subject of three failed protection order requests — including one by a woman who feared him due to his late girlfriend’s sudden death, CBC News has learned.

Judge denied applications by women who cited fears of Manuel Ruiz

Judges denied 3 protection orders against Manuel Ruiz, in 2001, 2006 and 2010. (Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench)

A Winnipeg firefighter and martial arts teacher charged with sexual assault was the subject of three failed protection order requests — including one by a woman who feared him due to his late girlfriend's sudden death, CBC News has learned.

"I fear for my safety because of previous violent history both physically and emotionally," a 2006 request for protection states.

In that request for protection from Manuel Ruiz, as well as others filed in 2001 and 2010, judges denied the three women's applications. The reasons for the judgment are unclear but Ruiz denied the allegations in each request.

In the 2006 case, he said the woman "has no reason whatsoever to fear him ... The Petitioner is using the recent, and unfortunate, death of the respondent's girlfriend as an excuse" to seek the protection order.

Ruiz, 52, was charged Friday with multiple offences, including sexual assault, sexual interference, forcible confinement and luring a child, involving three females who were 12-18 at the time. The offences date back to 2001.

Ruiz is a longtime martial arts expert who taught self-defence and other martial arts courses to Manitoba Justice sheriffs officers, police academies and Indigenous girls, both on and off reserves.

Within the last year, Ruiz was promoted to lieutenant in his position as a firefighter paramedic with the City of Winnipeg.

City officials told CBC that they've removed Ruiz from active duty and that they "take allegations of this nature very seriously."

'Leave her alone'

Melissa Nelson, 21, of Winnipeg died on March 11, 2006, after apparently falling from a four-storey balcony at a hotel in Cuba, according to a Canadian Press story. She was on vacation with Ruiz at the time, according to family.
Melissa Nelson was 21 in March 2006, when she fatally fell from a 4th-floor balcony while on vacation in Cuba with Manuel Ruiz. (Supplied)

CBC's attempts to reach Cuban officials about the status of the investigation have gone unanswered.

Melissa was just 15 years old when she met Ruiz in 2000 through a self-defence course he was teaching at the Roseau River First Nation, according to her mother, Barb Nelson.

At the time, her mother says she tried to steer him away from her daughter.

"I called him and I told him, 'You know, my daughter is a teen … You should leave her alone. Don't bother my daughter," Nelson told the CBC. "I said 'You're a grown man, she's a young girl. You should leave her alone.'"

Instead, their relationship continued until Melissa's death.

Nelson said her daughter tried to break the relationship off because Ruiz was getting too possessive — and that's when he took her to Cuba.

Before they went on the trip, Nelson talked to Ruiz on the phone.

"I told him 'you look after my daughter, and you bring her home.' He said 'yes, I will look after her.""

After two days in Cuba, Ruiz called Nelson to say Melissa was dead.

"He said 'Oh, Melissa was drunk and she fell off a balcony,'" Nelson recalled. She tried to speak to Cuban authorities but she doesn't speak Spanish. 

"He said the autopsy said her death was accidental," Nelson said. "That's what Manny said. I don't speak the language, I couldn't read it."

She's been wondering what happened for the past 11 years. She said Melissa was fit and wanted to be a police officer.

"That was her goal in life. She put herself through school, and she had two jobs before she went to Cuba, she volunteered at West End BIZ, she had everything in front of her, right? I don't understand. I still don't understand today why, what happened to my girl."

Access to weapons

One of the court documents related to a court protection order request was filed on March 14, 2006, three days after Melissa's death.

The woman argued she was not only fearful of Ruiz due to his girlfriend's death, but also detailed allegations of violence, including that he "broke down my back door after choking me unconscious."

Prior to that, in July 2001, a woman who was his former student and employee, filed a request for a protection order against him because he videotaped their sexual relations and had others "physically, emotionally and sexually beat me up."

The former employee also stated Ruiz had access to "martial arts weapons, guns, crowbars, knives."

In March of 2010, another woman who briefly dated and lived with Ruiz applied for a protection order stating Ruiz was stalking and sexually harassing her.

All three requests for protection orders were denied.

Jiu-jitsu classes

In May 2005, Ruiz purchased a former church on 484 Maryland Avenue for $145,000, where he ran jiu-jitsu classes in the basement.

In 2006, he purchased another former church — and former Los Brovos clubhouse — at 235 Andrews Street for $1.

Ruiz renovated the house and tried to sell it in 2010 for $249,900, but did not succeed. Neighbours told the CBC that he was trying to turn it into a rooming house.

One of the sexual assault charges laid against Ruiz involve allegations he sexually assaulted an underage girl in 2001 at a jiu-jitsu studio located at 80 Sherbrook Street.

While police investigated Ruiz, officers found a woman who reported being sexually assaulted by Ruiz at a different location in the city in 2005 and 2006.

A third alleged victim, who is still under 18, was also later identified by police. She alleged that Ruiz contacted her through an online advertisement for escort services and paid her for sex from 2015 until recently, police said.