Headingley corrections officer is charged in 2021 in-custody death of inmate William Ahmo

Robert Jeffrey Morden, 43, has been charged with criminal negligence causing death and failing to provide necessaries of life in the February 2021 death of William Ahmo, who was an inmate at Headingley Correctional Centre.

Robert Jeffrey Morden charged with criminal negligence causing death

RCMP arrested a Headingley Correctional Centre officer on Friday in connection with the death of William Ahmo, who died last year following an altercation. (Submitted by Darlene Ahmo)

A corrections officer has been arrested in connection with the death of an inmate nearly a year ago.

Robert Jeffrey Morden, 43, has been charged with criminal negligence causing death and failing to provide necessaries of life in the February 2021 death of William Ahmo.

"We're kind of hoping this investigation shows to the family … we've taken this seriously," said Sgt. Paul Manaigre, spokesperson for the Manitoba RCMP.

"A lot of man-hours, a lot of resources were put into play here to get the answers that this family has been searching for for 11 months." 

Ahmo, 45, was an inmate at Headingley Correctional Centre when an altercation took place in the evening of Feb. 7 last year.

Investigators say there was a prolonged standoff between corrections officers and Ahmo in a common room at the provincial jail.

It ended when Headingley's critical emergency response team removed the Sagkeeng First Nation man from the area. 

While he was being removed, Ahmo became unresponsive and was taken to hospital in medical distress, the RCMP said in a news release on Friday. He died on Feb. 14.

Death ruled a homicide

The chief medical examiner conducted an autopsy and ruled Ahmo's death was a homicide.

After RCMP major crimes unit investigated, they sent a detailed report to the Manitoba Prosecutions Service for feedback on next steps. 

Prosecutors then sent the report on to Ontario's ministry of the attorney general for another opinion, RCMP said.

As a result of input from Manitoba prosecutors and the Ontario ministry, RCMP arrested Morden on Friday. 

Calls for answers

In a statement released Friday, Ahmo's family said they "are relieved, grateful and cautiously optimistic."

"This has been an incredibly hard time for our family. Knowing that we may see the people who took Will from us held accountable gives us hope," Darlene Ahmo, William's mother, said in the statement thanking the RCMP.

"The RCMP has been respectful to our family through this process and we are grateful for the professional manner that they conducted the investigation and stayed in contact with us."

Shortly after Ahmo's death, family and leadership from Sagkeeng First Nation demanded details about what happened and asked for an investigation.

Jerry Daniels, grand chief of the Southern Chiefs' Organization, then called for a public inquiry, repeating those calls months later after new details of the incident came to light. 

In May of last year, Corey Shefman, an attorney working for Ahmo's family, told the Winnipeg Free Press that the altercation between Ahmo and guards started when a correctional officer refused to stop making racist jokes in front of inmates.

Shefman said at the time that refusal led to an argument that escalated into the hours-long standoff between Ahmo and jail staff, which later led to the emergency team removing Ahmo.

Derrick Henderson, the chief of Sagkeeng First Nation, says he hopes this outcome will give the family some closure.

"For me, that's a facility that's looking after people, right?" he said. "You're supposed to be protecting those people. Yes, they are in a law facility but you still have a duty to look after them, right?"

He added there's accountability in this outcome, and he gives his thanks to the RCMP.

"I just appreciate the work that was done," he said. "And you're investigating people that have some responsibility. It must have been tough for them, but they did their job."