According to lawyers, the discovery means the case will be remanded to provincial police for possible criminal charges.
Five years after Soleiman Faqiri was found dead on the floor of an Ontario jail, shackled, pepper-sprayed, and lying face down with his head covered, the province’s chief forensic pathologist has determined what killed him.
It’s the answer to a question his family has been asking for years, only to be told repeatedly that there was no way to determine how the 30-year-old man with schizophrenia died while awaiting transfer to a medical facility.
That is, until now.
Dr. Michael Pollanen determined that Faqiri’s official cause of death was “prone position restraint and musculocutaneous injuries sustained during struggle, exertion, and pepper spray exposure” in a person with an enlarged heart and worsening schizophrenia.
In other words, Faqiri died as a result of being held face down on his stomach and the injuries he sustained while being physically restrained and repeatedly struck by a group of at least six guards at Lindsay’s Central East Correctional Centre in 2016.
“Numerous musculocutaneous injuries were present as a result of blunt trauma caused by correctional officers striking Soleiman Faqiri or his body colliding with the ground or stationary objects during a violent struggle with the correctional officers,” Pollanen wrote in an Aug. 5 peer-reviewed forensic pathology review report.
“None of the injuries was fatal on its own,” Pollanen stated in the report. “However, taken together, the injuries were a significant contributing factor in death,” the family’s lawyers say. As a result of the chief pathologist’s report, the case has been remanded to the Ontario Provincial Police, which means criminal charges could be reinstated.
Two previous criminal investigations — conducted by the Kawartha Lakes Police Service and the Ontario Provincial Police, respectively — resulted in the dismissal of all charges against the guards involved.
“We now know for certain that Soleiman Faqiri was murdered using a lethal combination of excessive force,” said Edward Marrocco, one of the family’s attorneys. “There is no mystery remaining,” lawyers say. The case has been remanded to provincial police.
Faqiri — or “Soli,” as he was affectionately known by his family — was a straight-A student and captain of his high school football team. However, his life changed dramatically when he was diagnosed with schizophrenia at the age of 18 following a car accident. He was repeatedly taken into custody under the province’s Mental Health Act over the years.
Pollanen’s discovery comes just months after Faqiri’s lead pathologist announced an investigation into his death. According to the family’s attorneys, it also supersedes the original 2017 forensic pathology report by Dr. Magdaleni Bellis, which concluded that the cause of death for Faqiri could not be determined — or was “unascertained.” The review comes less than a year after court documents revealed jail guards violated their use-of-force policies when restraining Faqiri.
It also comes more than two years after CBC News conducted an exclusive interview with an inmate whose cell faced Faqiri’s segregation unit and whose eyewitness account was never included in the initial post-mortem report.
‘We implore you to do your job,’ Pollanen writes in his report, confirming that he considered an inmate’s statement alongside that of correctional officers, as well as autopsy and lab results, medical history, video footage from inside the jail, the spit hood that covered Faqiri in his final moments, and the cell where Faqiri took his final breath.
Pollanen notes that the science of how someone might die in a face-down position is “not entirely settled in forensic medicine,” and that other pathologists may have differing perspectives on the “bottom line” cause of his death.
That is something Faqiri’s family is hoping will change now that the cause of his death has been revealed.
“To the Ontario Provincial Police, we implore you to perform your duties,” said Yusuf, Faqiri’s older brother. “Prove to us that the system does not protect correctional officers who violate the law.” CBC News has reached out to the Ontario Provincial Police and the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services for comment.
The family is still pursuing a $14.3 million lawsuit against the ministry and seven individual jail staff members.