The family of Elias Whitehead made an emotional plea for witnesses at a news conference in Winnipeg after the 37 year old man died in police custody.
“Where was his help? Why didn’t they keep him safe? Regardless of the situation, they failed him,” said Jody Beardy, Whitehead’s partner. “Who do we call if we need help? Regardless of the situation, who we are, we should not be profiled, Where is the humanity for Indigenous People?”
According to a release from Winnipeg police, officers responded to a report of a male in distress running into traffic and acting erratically. He was taken into custody and went into medical distress. Police said he was then taken to hospital in critical condition and was later died.
Beardy said that information is missing from that press release and that a video recorded by a witness showed more.
“I felt like I couldn’t breathe. When I seen the video,” said Beardy.
APTN News has not seen the video.
The case is currently being investigated by the independent investigation unit of Manitoba.
Whitehead is from the Webequie First Nation and was living with Beardy in Tataskweyak.
He was a carpenter and level one heavy duty mechanic. He was in Winnipeg for training when he died.
Winnipeg police chief Danny Smyth wrote an online post on the site Substack following the incident.
In the post, he said officers were informed that a male had “jumped in front of a woman’s vehicle and started punching her window and attempted to enter her vehicle.”
He said Whitehead was combative and acting erratically
“For perspective, less than half of the one percent of those calls requires any force, at all let alone lethal force,” he said. “In perspective, they don’t occur frequently.”
Manitoba Kewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief Garrison Settee said violence against Indigenous people is regular occurrence.
“Why is it that First Nations people have been the victims of fatalities at the hands of Winnipeg Police? This is not right,” he said. “There is something deeply wrong with a system that allows our people to be victims of police brutality and fatality.”
Beardy said that this behavior was out of character for Whitehead.
“He was kind he would help anyone who needed it and he would befriend anyone,” she said.
The family said they’re waiting on toxicology reports and the autopsy.
First Nations leaders wrote to Winnipeg’s mayor and police chief requesting that in-custody reports be made available to the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and for a meeting.