Manitoba grand chief calls for public inquiry into in-custody death of William Ahmo

The organization representing First Nations in southern Manitoba is calling for a public inquiry into the death of William Ahmo, who died while in custody at Headingley Correctional Centre in February.

Ahmo, 45, died a week after being admitted to hospital with serious injuries sustained in what police described as an “incident” with correctional officers at the Headingley jail. RCMP are investigating.

The Southern Chiefs’ Organization had previously called for a fully transparent public inquiry into the death of Ahmo, who was a member of Sagkeeng First Nation, saying there was a lack of information being released. But new information has come to light that made the SCO renew its call.

“We’re appalled by what we had learned and have questions about what’s taking so long for this information to be disclosed by the police who are investigating this,” said Grand Chief Jerry Daniels.

Corey Shefman, an attorney working with the Ahmo family, told the Winnipeg Free Press this week that the altercation Ahmo was involved in started when a correctional officer would not stop making racist jokes in front of the inmates.

Shefman said this led to an argument, which escalated into an hours-long standoff between the inmate and jail staff. How the situation escalated isn’t clear yet, but the serious incident response team, in full tactical gear, was eventually called into the unit, Shefman told the Free Press, adding that Ahmo was unarmed.

At this point in his investigation, Shefman believes the events unfolded in front of a number of witnesses and in full view of video surveillance cameras, he told the Free Press.

“I have interest in knowing what was the cause of death, and we haven’t been given any information yet as it relates to those particular issues,” said Daniels.

A spokesperson for Manitoba Justice said it could not provide comment, as the matter is under active investigation by the RCMP.

An inquiry cannot assign blame, but it examines the circumstances surrounding a person’s death in order to prevent similar deaths in the future.

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