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Jail officials fired after Soleiman Faqiri's death lay blame with province

Three years after a mentally ill man was found lifeless on the floor of an Ontario jail cell, the province has broken its silence about the day Soleiman Faqiri died. But so have two former jail managers, who say they've become scapegoats for the ministry's failure.

Ontario ministry says managers acted outside scope of their duty

Soleiman Faqiri was born on New Year's Day in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 1986 and came to Canada in 1993. His family remembers him as a straight-A student, captain of his high school rugby team, beloved by his parents and siblings. (Submitted by Yusuf Faqiri)

Three years after a mentally ill man was found lifeless on the floor of an Ontario jail cell, the province's correctional ministry has broken its silence about the day Soleiman Faqiri died. But it isn't alone. 

Two managers fired in the aftermath of the 30-year-old's death inside a Central East Correctional Centre cell are accusing the province of trying to "shift blame and attention from its failings" — failings they claim "contributed directly" to Faqiri's death.

The developments come approximately one year after Faqiri's family launched a $14.3 million lawsuit over the "excessive force" they believe killed him. Neither the family's claims nor those of the province or the managers have been proven in court.

In response, the province filed a statement of defence, defending the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, denying any of its staff used "unauthorized force" with Faqiri in December 2016.

A coroner's report found more than 50 signs of "blunt impact trauma" on Faqiri's body, including abrasions, ligature marks around his wrists and ankles, bruises to his upper and lower extremities and neck. 

His cause of death: "unascertained." No criminal charges have been laid in the case.

A post-mortem report documented more than 50 signs of what it described as 'blunt impact trauma,' including ligature marks, bruises across Faqiri’s body and cuts, and internal injuries discovered during the autopsy. (Kawartha Lakes Police Service)

Faqiri, who suffered from schizophrenia, was taken into custody on Dec. 4, 2016, in Ajax, Ont., after allegedly stabbing his neighbour. He'd had run-ins with the law before and had been taken to hospital about 10 times, under Ontario's Mental Health Act, as he struggled to keep up with his medication.

But this time, instead of hospital, he was taken to jail in Lindsay, Ont., where he died 11 days later.

On Dec. 15, Faqiri was transferred to the jail's maximum segregation unit and taken to the showers, where guards claim he sprayed them with water and threw shampoo bottles.

He was then escorted to his cell. The inmate across from that cell would later tell CBC's The Fifth Estate one of the guards whispered something to Faqiri along the way, agitating him. 

The province says Faqiri began resisting, and guards had to force him to his cell.

He was pepper sprayed twice, according to a later police investigation, before up to 30 other guards were called in to help. Faqiri's limbs were held down as leg irons were put on and a spit hood was placed over his head, as revealed by CBC News. 

A former inmate speaks out about a day that haunts him

4 years ago
Duration 0:56
John Thibeault says he saw jail guards beat Soleiman Faqiri

Shortly after the guards left his cell, a staff member noticed Faqiri wasn't breathing. Minutes later, he was dead.

In its statement of defence, filed in October with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, the province denies its "servants or agents were aware that their actions would lead to Mr. Faqiri's injuries."

Days after Faqiri's death, 15 staff along with the jail's deputy superintendent were suspended. After an internal investigation, two managers were dismissed. 

The province says in court documents those managers, John Thompson and Dawn Roselle, "had not acted in the course and scope of their duties."

But in a crossclaim, filed in response to the province's statement of defence, Thompson and Roselle say their firings amount to "scapegoating," and that they merely followed their training on the day of Faqiri's death.

The Central East Correction Centre in Lindsay, Ont. (Google Streetview)

Crisis team not called in

Thompson and Roselle note the ministry refused to send in its institutional crisis intervention team (ICIT) — stationed "steps away" from Faqiri's cell — that day. ICITs are responsible for "controlling violent or potentially violent inmates," according to provincial documents. 

"This failure endangered the lives of the [defendants] and contributed directly to the fatal consequences of Faqiri," the crossclaim says.

Thompson and Roselle deny any responsibility for Faqiri's death, calling it "accidental."

The pair claim the ministry failed to properly assess Faqiri's risk to himself or staff and did not provide sufficient training on the use of handcuffs, spit hoods and use of force on mentally ill inmates. 

If there was negligence, they say, the fault lies with the province — something the province denies.

The province claims the training provided was "reasonable" and says it stands by the decision not to deploy the crisis team. It also denies it "acted with malice" in firing Thompson and Roselle. 

There is no footage of what took place inside Faqiri's cell. These blood smears were among the hundreds of photos of the scene taken by investigators following his death and obtained by The Fifth Estate. (Kawartha Lakes Police Service)

Asked by CBC News to elaborate on the firings, the province refused, citing the ongoing lawsuit and police investigation.

The ministry also refused comment on why the guards' request for an ICIT was denied. 

Three years on, Faqiri's family continues to wait for the Ontario Provincial Police to determine whether charges will be laid in his death.

His brother, Yusuf Faqiri, sees the finger-pointing between the managers and the ministry as a sign something went terribly wrong that day. 

"They're laying blame on each other, but ultimately the responsibility lies on both of them," he said."I don't know what kind of training that's called when my brother had 50 bruises on his body…. My brother was given to us in a body bag.

"My question to this day is why was Soleiman killed under government care? Why have these people not been held responsible?"

As that wait continues, there are new reminders of his loss — a baby girl born just a few weeks ago, who would have been Faqiri's niece. 

"It hit me that she would never meet him," said Yusuf. "It's heart-wrenching."

Soleiman Faqiri, left, pictured here with older brother Yusuf. (Nick Boisvert/CBC)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Shanifa Nasser

Reporter-Editor

Shanifa Nasser is a Toronto-based reporter with CBC News interested in religion, race, national security, the justice system and stories with a heartbeat. She holds an MA in the Study of Religion from the University of Toronto. Her reporting has led to two investigative documentaries by The Fifth Estate. Reach her at: shanifa.nasser@cbc.ca

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