Medical examiner calls inquest in Winnipeg Remand Centre inmate death

Russell Spence, 31, died behind bars in October 2016. Police arrested and transported him to the remand centre, where a brief struggle with guards ensued. Spence became unresponsive minutes later.

Russell Spence, 31, died after struggling with guards during processing in October 2016

Russell Spence died after a 'struggle' during processing at the Winnipeg Remand Centre.

Manitoba's chief medical examiner will investigate the circumstances surrounding the death a man who died behind bars a year ago following a struggle with guards.

The inquest into the death of Russell Spence, 31, whom family described as a "friendly giant," was announced Friday in a news release.

Winnipeg police arrested Spence on Oct. 12, 2016, and took him to the Winnipeg Remand Centre. He became involved in a struggle with guards who were allegedly conducting a physical search during processing.

Guards and Winnipeg police officers "eventually subdued" Spence and four minutes later he "suddenly became unresponsive," provincial medical examiner Dr. John K. Younes writes.

Staff at Health Science Centre were unable to resuscitate Spence.

The extent of involvement on the part of remand centre guards or Winnipeg police officers remains unclear. Manitoba's Independent Investigation Unit is reviewing the case, as it does in all serious reported cases involving violent incidences with police officers.

Younes will be conducting an inquiry in hopes of learning more about the circumstances surrounding Spence's death, and to determine whether anything can be done to avoid future deaths at the remand centre.

Inquests are mandated through the provincial Fatality Inquiries Act when there is reason to believe an inmate in a correctional institution "died as a result of a violent act, undue means of negligence or in an unexpected or unexplained manner."

Inquiries are also called in when there is a suspicion that an "act or omission" of an on-duty peace officer occurred. 

Spence was on a two-year probation requirement at the time of his arrest in connection with a June conviction. He had a criminal record that included convictions for theft and charges for weapons offences.