Three and half years after a mentally ill man was pepper-sprayed, shackled and found lifeless on the floor of an Ontario jail cell, a new investigation into his death has reached the same conclusion as the first: No one will be held criminally responsible.
Ontario Provincial Police have chosen not to lay charges against any of the six or more guards who restrained and allegedly beat 30-year-old Soleiman Faqiri inside a segregation unit at the Central East Correctional Centre on Dec. 15, 2016.
That, despite the more than 50 signs of “blunt impact trauma” found on Faqiri’s body following his death, including bruises to his neck, most of which a coroner’s report found were likely the result of restraint.
It’s a development that’s left the Faqiris stunned after a years-long nightmare they hoped would end with someone being held accountable for the death of their “Soli.”
“The fact that they did not charge them with anything — that broke everyone in my family,” Soleiman’s younger brother Sam said in an exclusive interview at the family’s home.
“My brother’s dead, and I know who killed him. That’s probably the worst feeling in the world.”
‘A failure of justice’
“At a bare minimum, you would assume there would be an assault charge, if not a homicide charge,” his eldest brother Yusuf told CBC News.
Instead, the family and their lawyers say they’ve been told by the OPP not a single charge will be laid because it’s impossible to know exactly who among the guards did exactly what during the moments leading up to Soleiman’s death.
“The message the OPP is sending to the world here is that if you’re going to murder someone, do it in a group,” lawyer Nader Hasan told CBC News.
Asked about its decision, the OPP said in an email to CBC News “various possible explanations exist” for the injuries found on Faqiri’s body after his death.
“After a thorough assessment of the available evidence, it has been determined that there is no reasonable prospect of conviction on any criminal offences,” the force said in its statement.
Veteran criminal defence lawyer Clayton Ruby, who has no connection to the case, calls the decision “a failure of justice.”
Jail guards have a duty under the law to safeguard an inmate’s well-being, said Ruby, and charges are routinely laid in group assaults in Canada.
“They all wind up being parties to the offence … and subject, therefore, to exactly the same penalty, each one, even if they never struck the blow,” he said. “If you miss this on a law school exam, you flunk.”
Signs of trauma, but death deemed ‘unascertained’
Soleiman grew up a straight-A student and captain of his high school football team. But things took a turn for the worse when he was diagnosed with schizophrenia around the age of 18. He was repeatedly taken into custody under Ontario’s Mental Health Act.
In December 2016, Soleiman ended up in jail in Lindsay, Ont., after allegedly assaulting a neighbour. It was the last time his family would see him alive.
On Dec. 15 of that year, while he was being moved to the jail’s segregation unit, Soleiman became agitated and began resisting as guards tried to force him inside his new cell, according to a police report.
A police investigation would later find Soleiman had been pepper-sprayed twice. His limbs were held down by leg irons, a spit hood was placed over his head and he was left face down on the floor in handcuffs before guards found him unresponsive.
A coroner’s report documented more than 50 signs of “blunt impact trauma” across Soleiman’s body, including bruises to his neck.
“Many of the injuries would be in keeping with the story of attempts to restrain this man, but falls, or blows or other impacts to these regions cannot be excluded,” the report said.
Faqiri’s cause of death was deemed “unascertained.” The local police force, Kawartha Lakes Police Service, opted not to lay criminal charges.
But the OPP had more to go on.
In 2018, an inmate housed just across from Soleiman’s cell at the time of the incident broke his silence with an eyewitness account. The family’s lawyers say senior figures inside the coroner’s office expressed concerns after hearing that account, saying there might be reason for criminal charges in Soleiman’s death.
Questions about integrity of investigation
That fall, the coroner’s office called for a new investigation, this time by the OPP.
Speaking to The Fifth Estate, eyewitness John Thibeault described seeing Soleiman endure a “brutal” torrent of punches, kicks and blows — one of the guards pressing his knee into Soleiman’s neck.
“They viciously beat him to death,” Thibeault said.
WATCH | An inmate across the hall from Soleiman Faqiri breaks silence:
The family’s lawyers say OPP investigators told them Thibeault was found to be a “credible” witness. The OPP did confirm to CBC News they spoke to Thibeault “a number of times,” but would not comment on his credibility.
In the months that followed Soleiman’s death, two of the jail’s managers were fired, with the province saying they hadn’t “acted in the course and scope of their duties.” The pair countered that the province was to blame for refusing to send in its crisis intervention team, and for what they called a lack of training around the use of restraint.
Ontario’s correctional ministry declined to comment on the OPP’s decision not to lay charges, citing the pending coroner’s inquest and ongoing legal proceedings. The Faqiri family is suing the province for $14.3 million dollars over the “excessive force” they believe killed Soleiman.
‘Strung along for a very long time’
“I feel like we were strung along for a very long time,” Soleiman’s brother Roustam said, adding the OPP repeatedly asked the family to have faith in them, saying they were leaning toward laying charges.
“Something’s gone terribly wrong,” said Hasan, one of the family’s lawyers.
Hasan points out the OPP’s decision relied on the very Crown office that advised the local police during the initial investigation into Soleiman ’s death.
That office, like the jail and the Kawartha Lakes Police Service, is based in Lindsay, Ont. — something Hasan says raises the question of “institutional bias.” His concern is whether the office far enough removed from the case and those involved the first time around to provide a fair opinion.
The OPP says although it was a Linsday, Ont., Crown who advised them in their investigation, other senior Crowns from the Ministry of the Attorney General were also consulted. “The OPP has no concerns regarding the objectivity of the Crown’s decisions,” it said in a statement.
With no charges laid, Soleiman’s case will now be examined at a coroner’s inquest, where an independent jury of five will determine if his death was indeed a homicide.
From there, police have the right to either proceed with criminal charges or not. In Ontario, coroner’s inquests cannot assign blame, nor are their recommendations binding.
Calls for province to step in
For lawyer Clayton Ruby, however, an inquest alone “is not a solution at all.”
He says Ontario’s attorney general “has an obligation to correct miscarriages of justice” and should step in to do so in Soleiman’s case.
Asked if it would take any action on Faqiri’s case, the Ministry of the Attorney General said in a statement: “The police may seek confidential legal advice from the Crown regarding charges, however the final decision about whether to lay charges, and which charges to lay rest with the police.”
For Soleiman’s family, meanwhile, the grief deepens each passing day without closure.
“I came here for safety,” his father Ghulam told CBC News, recalling leaving Afghanistan as a refugee in the hope for a better life in Canada.
Instead, on what should have been a day of celebration, the family spent this past Eid at the cemetery to be with their “Soli” as they would have had he still been alive.
“I will never, ever again be able to hear his voice. Never be able to give me a hug or any of those things. They took that away from me,” his sister Pelatin said.
“They should be held accountable for what they did.”
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