Manitoba

Nearly 5 years after fatal Winnipeg police shooting, Machuar Madut's family still waiting for inquest

Almost five years after a 43-year-old South Sudanese man was shot dead by Winnipeg police, his family is still waiting for an inquest to find out what happened the morning he died. 

'To be in the dark for 5 years, it’s hard for kids to move on with life,' says ex-wife of man shot in 2019

Photo of a south Sudanese man wearing a baseball cap.
Machuar Madut, 43, was fatally shot by Winnipeg police in 2019. His family says they're still waiting for an inquest to understand more about what happened the morning he died. (Submitted by Sandy Deng)

Almost five years after a 43-year-old South Sudanese man was shot dead by Winnipeg police, his family is still waiting for an inquest to find out what happened the morning he died.

Machuar Madut was fatally shot on Feb. 23, 2019, by a police officer who was responding to a call at a Colony Street apartment. 

Manitoba's chief medical examiner ordered an inquest into Madut's death later that year. But Madut's ex-wife, Akoul Yak Deng, says his family still doesn't know when hearings will begin. 

The couple's three children have struggled ever since their father was killed and need closure, she said.

"To be in the dark for five years, it's hard for kids to move on with life," Deng said in an interview this week with Information Radio host Marcy Markusa. 

"Your own dad is being killed and five years later you still don't have an answer to it. So when is life going to be better for you? For me?"

Madut moved to Canada with Deng and their children in 2003, fleeing war in what is now South Sudan. Before his death, he had struggled with mental health issues and he was being evicted from his apartment, friends said at the time. 

The couple had already been apart for six years, but remained close, Deng said from Edmonton, where she now lives.

In the five years since, she said she has struggled to raise their three children on her own. 

"They have gone through a lot of difficulties, living with a single mom that is a father and a mother at the same time. They need something that they're lacking," she said. 

WATCH | How family of Machuar Madut is coping 5 years after his death: 

Ex-wife of man shot by Winnipeg police says life has been very hard without him

3 months ago
Duration 1:28
Machuar Madut's ex-wife, Akoul Yak Deng, says the couple's three children have struggled in the five years since he was fatally shot by police and thinks having answers about what happened would help them move on.

Inquest delays

Over the past five years, other inquests have been called and already completed, including one into another fatal Winnipeg police shooting that happened months after Madut was killed.

Asked about the delay, a provincial spokesperson said there were a number of "unique" challenges with Madut's case that have prolonged the inquest process, including gathering his medical records and determining the final list of people and organizations who can participate in an inquest.

A hearing date has not been scheduled at this time, the spokesperson said. 

Deng said that's not a good enough answer for her. 

"Am I not that important? My husband is very important for me. I need to find justice for him."

Toronto-based lawyer Gillian Hnatiw has represented participants at a number of inquests, including inquests into the deaths of Ashley Smith — who died in an Ontario jail cell in 2007 — and Katelynn Sampson, a seven-year-old Ontario girl who was killed by her guardians.

Inquests are focused on finding facts rather than determining who was at fault, so the parties are supposed to work together to gather evidence, said Hnatiw.

That process can take a long time, especially when dealing with government records, she said. 

A woman stands in front of two microphones.
Lawyer Gillian Hnatiw has represented parties involved in several inquests and says the process can take a long time because it can be difficult to gather evidence from so many sources. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

"Sometimes you'll get a set of records [and] you'll realize they're incomplete, or they'll point you to a new set of records and you have to go off and get those," she said. 

"It all sounds very easy. I struggle to sort of articulate how complex it can be, but I know having done it, it's an enormous amount of work."

That being said, if the process drags out too long it can impact how effective the inquest will be, she said. 

"Witnesses become unavailable. They can die. They can move outside the jurisdiction where you can't get them with a subpoena anymore. Memories fade," she said. 

"So there are very good reasons to move quickly."

10-year wait for an inquest

The province took 10 years to convene an inquest into the 2007 fatal shooting of Roy Bell and nearly eight years to examine the 2015 shooting death of Steven Campbell

Hearing dates has yet to be set into the deaths of Eishia Hudson, Jason Collins and Stewart Andrews — Indigenous people who were each fatally shot by Winnipeg police over a 10-day span in 2020.

Premier Wab Kinew accused the former Progressive Conservative government of not having the employees to handle the inquests. He said his NDP government will work to hire more staff.

"There's too many people in Manitoba asking that question: What if?" Kinew told reporters in Dauphin, Man., following an unrelated news conference on Wednesday.

"What if I could have got into treatment more quickly? What if we could have found out what happened in that terrible tragedy?

"And it's our government's intention to be able to deliver answers more promptly, more compassionately than has been the case in recent memory here."

PC justice critic Wayne Balcaen called on the NDP to stop pointing fingers.

"The election is over and Manitobans' patience with the premier's blame game is wearing thin. Manitobans expect the NDP to come up with a plan, but so far they haven't delivered," he said in a statement.

Similarities to recent shooting

As the five-year anniversary of Madut's death draws closer, another family whose loved one was recently killed by Winnipeg police is also searching for answers. 

Afolabi Stephen Opaso, a 19-year-old Nigerian international student, was fatally shot on New Year's Eve by police responding to a call about a man who was possibly armed and behaving erratically at a south Winnipeg apartment.

Jean-René Dominque Kwilu, a lawyer representing his family, has previously said Opaso was experiencing a mental health episode when he was killed. 

Kevin Walby, an associate professor of criminal justice studies at the University of Winnipeg, said the circumstances around Opaso's death seem eerily similar to what happened to Madut, yet little has changed since the latter was shot in 2019.

Walby said an inquest could reveal more about the circumstances surrounding Madut's death, but he thinks the province should conduct a larger inquiry into police shootings in Winnipeg. 

A man smiling.
Afolabi Stephen Opaso, 19, died after being shot by Winnipeg police on Dec. 31, 2023. (Submitted by Jean-René Dominique Kwilu)

"This is not an isolated incident. It is … a systemic issue that deserves real provincial scrutiny," he said. 

"That's just the bare minimum of what should be done, given this kind of social problem that policing has become in this city." 

In January 2020, Manitoba's police watchdog cleared the Winnipeg police officer who shot Madut. 

In its final report into Madut's death, the Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba said it found the use of lethal force by the officer was "reasonable, necessary, justified and unavoidable."

Statements from witnesses and officers included in the report said when police arrived, Madut brandished a hammer, threatening to hit one officer with it and trying to hit another.

Two officers, including the one who shot Madut, said they tried using a stun gun on him first, but it had no effect because he was wearing a bulky winter jacket and several layers of clothing.

Years-long wait for inquest takes toll on family reeling from police shooting

3 months ago
Duration 2:36
The family of Machuar Madut, a South Sudanese man shot dead by Winnipeg police in 2019, is looking for answers as the wait for an inquest approaches the five-year mark.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sarah Petz

Reporter

Sarah Petz is a reporter with CBC Manitoba. She was previously based at CBC New Brunswick. Her career has taken her across three provinces and includes a stint in East Africa. She can be reached at Sarah.Petz@cbc.ca or @sarahrosepetz on Twitter.

With files from Chidi Ekuma and Ian Froese

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