Six months after the unexplained death of a man with schizophrenia inside an Ontario jail following a “physical altercation” with multiple guards, his family is still desperate to know what really happened to him.
Thirty-year-old Soleiman Faqiri died on Dec. 15 — 11 days after being admitted to the Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay, Ont., on charges of assault, threatening death and bodily harm and two counts of aggravated assault.
His family has repeatedly questioned why they were not allowed access to him during his brief incarceration or given a reason as to why they couldn’t see or speak with him.
On the six-month anniversary of his death, Soleiman’s brother Yusuf Faqiri said the family still has no idea how he died.
“I look at my beautiful brother and I wonder the life that could have been … he inspired so many of us,” Faqiri told Global News.
“It was as if my heart was just stripped apart, it was as if everything that we had in life was taken from us — and to be honest that feeling, we have that every day.”
Yusuf described Soleiman as a brilliant man with a great sense of humour who studied environmental engineering at the University of Waterloo.
VIDEO: Family wants answers 8 weeks after man with schizophrenia died in prison. Christina Stevens reports. (Feb. 8)
He said his brother’s mental illness was “well documented at the facility” and that Soleiman had been diagnosed with schizophrenia in the spring of 2005.
Yusuf previously said Soleiman was “temporarily housed” at the jail while staff worked to transfer him to the Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences facility in Lindsay.
He added the family has tried to confirm whether or not Soleiman was in solitary confinement at the time of his death, but the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services has refuse to confirm or deny that detail.
A ministry spokesman previously told Global News they could only confirm a male inmate “passed away” at the facility on Dec. 15, but if the death was determined to be due to unnatural causes a mandatory inquest would be held.
Yusuf said the Kawartha Lakes Police Service would only tell the family that Soleiman lost vital signs during a physical altercation with the guards, but police declined to provide more detail. All the family knows is that Soleiman was alive before the interaction with the guards.
“My brother was killed, I want to be very clear here, he was killed by guards, he had his life taken away by guards,” he said, adding there were visible cuts and bruises on Soleiman’s body.
“What kind of society do we live in when a mentally ill person is killed under government care and the family stunningly still does not have answers?”
Yusuf said he often visits his brother’s grave with his mother, wondering what the final moments of his life were like.
“They weren’t pleasant. I would not wish this on anybody — because this is someone that had hopes and dreams and aspirations,” he said.
“We all, as Ontarians and Canadians, have to remember that this is absolutely unacceptable. This happened to somebody that needed help — instead he lost his life.”
On April 3, the family received a letter of condolence from Community Safety and Correctional Services Minister Marie-France Lalonde.
In it, she expressed “heartfelt condolences” to the family and said she is “deeply saddened” by the death of “any inmate” in custody.
“When the death of an inmate in our custody occurs, separate investigations may be carried out by ministry officials, the Office of the Chief Coroner, and the police,” she wrote.
“These investigations are currently taking place with regard to the death of your son and as a result it would be inappropriate for me to comment further.”
Edward Marrocco, the family’s lawyer, said they came to him looking for answers and accountability in Soleiman’s death — something they still have not received.
“At this point we have no idea what the medical cause of death is,” he said, adding more than two jail guards were involved in the incident.
“It doesn’t really matter in the sense that we know he died as a result of having this force applied to him.”
On Jan. 30, the Kawartha Lakes Police Service said in a press release that the investigation into Soleiman’s death was ongoing and investigators were waiting on a coroner’s report they expected to be completed within “six to eight weeks.”
More than 19 weeks later, police said they have still not received the report.
Minister Lalonde told Global News her “heart goes out” to Soleiman’s family, but added she could not talk specifically about his case.
Lalonde said the ministry is in the process of “transforming” Ontario’s correctional system, following the December announcement of an additional 239 staff for its 26 adult correctional facilities.
Those include correctional supervisors, nurses, mental-health nurses, psychologists, recreational staff, chaplains, librarians and administrators. Twenty-four correction officers were also hired in addition to a previous commitment to hire employ 2,000 officers over the next three years.
Brent Ross, a spokesman for the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, said in an emailed statement they had recorded 11 inmate deaths to date in 2017, three of which were deemed to be the result of natural causes.
The ministry recorded 14 inmate deaths in 2016 and 13 in 2015, but was not able to provide information on whether those inmates had mental health issues as that would involve “personal health information.”
Howard Sapers, the former Correctional Investigator of Canada and a current independent advisor on corrections reform for the provincial government, has recommended banning the use of solitary confinement for inmates with mental illness.
“We are committed to make those changes,” Lalonde said, adding new legislation will be introduced in the fall. “We need to change the entire system, and that’s what we’re doing.”
She added there is a process in place for any death in custody in the province that can involve the chief coroner for Ontario and police, who will work to provide information to the family.
“I think what the family wants is answers, what the family wants is a thorough investigation,” Lalonde said, adding that care needs to be taken to ensure the investigation is conducted professionally and comprehensively.
“Once the investigations are public and families are made aware, I think they’ll want to know that everything was looked at.”
For now, all the family can do is wait.
“We don’t know what happened in those 11 days. We do know one thing — this was a man who needed help,” Yusuf said.
“We buried him in the middle of the winter, now we are in summer. People have had their birthdays, they’ve had anniversaries they’ve had milestones. Instead, my family continues to stand still and idle waiting to find out what happened to my beautiful brother.”