TORONTO – The family of a mentally ill man who died at an Ontario jail has launched a lawsuit against the province and guards at the facility, alleging corrections officers used excessive force that ultimately killed the 30-year-old.
Soleiman Faqiri‘s relatives announced their suit Wednesday, claiming a key eye witness had come forward and provided information that allegedly indicates jail guards severely beat the man and were responsible for his death in December 2016.
“Soleiman’s ultimate death was directly related to the negligent actions of the defendants who used excessive and inappropriate force against him,” the family’s statement of claim alleged.
Faqiri, who suffered from schizophrenia, died while awaiting a transfer from the Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay, Ont., to a mental health facility. His brother, Yusuf, said the family decided to sue after an initial police investigation turned up little information and resulted in no charges.
“We want to make sure that Soleiman’s death is not in vain,” he said, adding he hoped the legal action would expose the true circumstances of his brother’s death. “I don’t want what happened to my late brother to happen to another family.”
The lawsuit, which was filed Monday, seeks $14.3 million in damages and alleges cruel and unusual punishment, battery, negligence and abuse of public office. The statement of claim names the province, the jail’s superintendent and a group of jail guards as defendants.
Ontario’s Ministry of the Attorney General confirmed it had received the statement of claim but declined to comment. A staff member at the Central East Correctional Centre referred questions about the lawsuit to the government.
According to the statement of claim, Soleiman Faqiri was arrested on Dec. 4, 2016 after an altercation with a neighbour in Ajax, Ont., during a schizophrenic episode.
He was jailed in the Central East facility and held in segregation for days, a situation that led to a deterioration in his mental health, the statement of claim said.
On Dec. 12, a justice of the peace ordered Faqiri be transferred to a mental health facility. Three days later, a group of approximately six correctional officers were taking the man to a new cell when an altercation occurred, the statement of claim alleged.
The claim alleges Faqiri was punched, kicked and stomped on while he was handcuffed and defenceless. It further alleges he was pepper-sprayed twice and had a so-called “spit hood” placed over his head, which meant his airways could not be cleared.
The lawsuit alleges the occupant of a nearby cell witnessed the altercation and saw a guard place his knee on the back of Faqir’s neck during the incident.
At some point, Faqiri stopped breathing and lost consciousness, the statement of claim said. He was pronounced dead in the cell, the document said.
“The correctional officers who escorted Soleiman to his cell and proceeded to subject him to a physical attack far exceeded the scope of force that they were permitted to use in the course of their duties,” the statement of claim alleged. ”
“At the time of his death, Faqiri had not been convicted of any crime. He had evident mental health issues and should not have been placed in administrative segregation as a method of managing his illness.”
Faqiri’s family said a coroner’s report indicated he was found with dozens of injuries, including blunt force trauma, but the information about the officer placing his knee on his neck was not previously known.
“The inescapable inference from all of these facts is that (Faqiri) was beaten to death,” lawyer Nader Hasan said. “But our strong suspicions were confirmed when this eye witness came forward.”
Hasan said the witness initially did not speak with police while he was jail, fearing for his safety. He has subsequently spoken with the Faqiri’s lawyers and the provincial coroner’s office, he said.
Ontario Provincial Police recently reopened the investigation into Faqiri’s death, which had earlier been probed by the Kawartha Lakes Police Service with no charges laid.