Coroner's inquest watches video of inmate who says he witnessed struggle

Inmate witnessed beating

An inmate at an Ontario jail told provincial police he saw correctional officers beating Soleiman Faqiri "as hard as they could" after getting him inside his cell, a coroner's inquest into the mentally ill man's death heard Tuesday.

The inquest watched a video recording of John Thibeault's interview with Ontario Provincial Police on Aug. 14, 2019. Thibeault was being held at the Central East Correctional Centre in the cell across from Faqiri's and told police he witnessed part of the events leading up to the man's death on Dec. 15, 2016.

In the interview, Thibeault told the investigator the door to Faqiri's cell was open and he had a clear view through a window in the door of his own cell.

He recalled that Faqiri was taken to the door by a group of correctional officers, and said one of them whispered something in Faqiri's ear that made the man not want to go inside. Thibeault said one of the officers pepper sprayed Faqiri in the face, and they were then able to get him inside.

Once they crossed the threshold, the four officers who had been holding Faqiri began "beating the (expletive) out of him," Thibeault said.

"They all started laying into him as hard as they could," hitting him with their fists, he told police. 

Faqiri was knocked down a few times, and the officers were "all over him like pitbulls, like sharks,” he said. 

At one point, Faqiri tried to run towards the back of the cell before he was dragged back, Thibeault said. When Faqiri got up a second time, he was pepper sprayed again, and the foam seemed to go into his mouth, he said. 

"He wasn’t fighting back, he was just trying to get away from them," Thibeault said. 

Thibeault said he saw officers kicking Faqiri's head, stomping on him and one kneeling on his neck. The beating stopped when Faqiri stopped moving, and officers then started yelling at him to stop resisting, Thibeault told police.

Thibeault said one of the officers then noticed he was watching and ran over to slam the shutter on his window. He then heard someone call a code blue – a call for assistance – and boots running down the hall. Thibeault said he heard a call for nurses shortly afterward, and more running down the hall. 

"I didn’t know what was going on," he said.

The inquest has heard Faqiri was arrested in early December 2016 on assault allegations related to an incident that took place when he was in a mental health crisis, and his condition deteriorated quickly while in the Lindsay, Ont., jail. At no time did he see a psychiatrist while in jail, nor was he taken to hospital, the inquest heard.

Faqiri died in his cell the afternoon of Dec. 15, 2016 after a violent struggle that began as he was being escorted from the shower to his cell.

He was subjected to "various incidents of use of force" in the moments leading up to his death, according to an agreed statement of facts. Faqiri was then left alone, face down with his hands cuffed behind his back and a spit hood – a face covering meant to prevent someone from spitting or biting – on his head, inside his cell for close to a minute until a manager became concerned that he wasn't breathing, the statement said.

The inquest heard Monday from a correctional officer who responded to the code blue. Dave Surowiec told the inquest he was asked to replace another officer who was tired and help restrain Faqiri on the ground. 

Surowiec said he had no information on the situation or the inmate at the time, and only learned Faqiri's identity after the fact.

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