Family of William Ahmo sues Manitoba, guards for deadly racism

The statement of claim alleges guards used batons, knees, and hands to force him to the ground where he was beaten unconscious.

William Ahmo

William Ahmo, 45, died Feb. 14, 2021 following an altercation with prison guards. Photo: Facebook.

The family of William Ahmo, a man from Sagkeeng First Nation in Manitoba, is suing the province and a number of provincial jail guards for his death at the Headingly Correctional Centre.

Ahmo, 45, died Feb. 14, 2021 after being in the facility for seven days.

According to a statement of claim filed with the Court of King’s Bench in Winnipeg on Feb. 8, the family is suing the province of Manitoba, the head of the facility’s Serious Incident Response Team (SIRT) Robert Morden, and a number of other guards associated with the response team.

The court records state that the incident that led to Ahmo’s death started after a guard told him a “racist joke” while he was in his cell with his bunkmate.

“Upon being allowed into the common area, William went to the inmates’ side of the glass-walled office occupied by correctional officers,” the statement of claim said.

“William hit the wall with his hand, and yelled loudly to the correctional officers in the office and elsewhere within earshot that he was ‘sick and tired’ of the racist way in which the correctional officers treated the inmates, and similarly sick and tired of being treated like ‘animals’ by the correctional officers.”

The claim said none of the officers responded to Ahmo’s comments. “Neither did they apologize,” it said.

Ahmo didn’t stop there. The claim said he kept yelling about the treatment inmates receive from the guards. After that, the guards ordered everyone back to their cells.

“William did not return to his cell. He continued to yell at the correctional officers (who were behind the wall) about the racist treatment that the inmates experienced from the guards in general, including but not limited to the racist ‘joke’ made earlier.

“After the other inmates returned to their cells, William was the only person remaining in the common area.”

According to the court document, a supervisor had a “brief conversation” with Ahmo.

All the while, members of SIRT – the unit headed up by Morden – began arriving and “gathered in a large group.”

“They were wearing armour and other riot gear, and carrying a variety of weapons, including batons, guns, sensory deprivation weapons such as flash bang grenades, and pellet weapons, the claim stated.

“Some CO Defendants [Correctional Officers Defendants] the guards] shot William with projectile weapons through a gunport in the wall or door.”

The statement said “approximately” 12 guards reached Ahmo and surrounded him.

“The CO Defendants beat William using their batons, knees, hands, and feet, forcing him to the ground,” said the statement of claim. “William was completely surrounded and did not leave the ground after he was pinned and swarmed by guards.

“The CO Defendants did not stop their attack until after they caused William to lose consciousness.”

Ahmo was taken to the Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg where he died seven days later.

“Manitoba and the CO Defendants had a duty to take reasonable care for the health and safety of their inmate, William,” the claim said. “This duty required them to, among other things, take reasonable care for the health and safety of William and to take such other reasonable steps as may have been necessary and prudent in the circumstances to reduce the risk of injury and death.”

None of the allegations have been tested in court.

Read More: 

Altercation in correctional centre which led to Indigenous man dying caused by racism family’s lawyer says 

RCMP charge jail guard in death of Sagkeeng First Nation inmate in Manitoba 

The Headingley Correctional Centre is a minimum- medium- and maximum-provincially operated facility about 20 km west of Winnipeg that holds approximately 550 male inmates.

The statement of claim alleged the guards involved ignored the province’s policies around the use of force and subduing inmates.

It also alleged that Manitoba has failed in a number of areas including, “ensuring the availability of non-violent and non-lethal incident control tools and techniques; failing to ensure that staff, including but not limited to the CO Defendants, were properly trained in the use of available equipment to avoid physical harm and death, and ineffective non-violent dispute resolution and de-escalating techniques.

“Manitoba did not care for William’s safety, health and well being, it failed to protect him from harm, and it failed to provide him with the necessities of life. As such, Manitoba breached its fiduciary duties to William,” the claim alleges.

In January 2022, RCMP in Headingley charged Morden, 43, with criminal negligence causing death and failing to provide the necessities of life.

Morden has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Ahmo is survived by his son, Emory, his brother, Josh, and sister, Dara.

The statement of claim doesn’t specify a monetary award sought by the family. The claim includes loss of care and companionship, income, and medical and funeral costs.

The defendants have 20 days to file a statement of defence.

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