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Inmate across from Soleiman Faqiri says 'beating started' after guards were out of camera's sight

An inmate housed directly across from Soleiman Faqiri the day he died said guards started beating Faqiri "as hard as they could" as soon as they were out of view of the hallway camera.

Jurors shown police interview of John Thibeault, who spoke exclusively to The Fifth Estate in 2018

For nearly two years, John Thibeault says he kept silent — fearful not only of the repercussions of speaking out while he was still behind bars but also that he might not be believed.
For nearly two years, John Thibeault says he kept silent — fearful not only of the repercussions of speaking out while he was still behind bars but also that he might not be believed. In 2018, he broke his silence about Soleiman Faqiri's death to CBC's The Fifth Estate. (Ousama Farag/CBC)

An inmate housed directly across from Soleiman Faqiri the day he died said guards started beating Faqiri "as hard as they could" as soon as they were out of view of the hallway camera.

John Thibeault made that statement to Ontario Provincial Police in the months after he spoke exclusively to CBC's The Fifth Estate, saying he felt compelled to come forward in the hope of justice for Faqiri's family. 

"That's when the beating started," Thibeault told the investigator in the interview room. "They all started laying into him as hard as they could and it was vicious.

"I've never seen nothing like that before."

Police later described Thibeault as "candid and credible," in an email from OPP Inspector Brad Collins, obtained by CBC News.

Jurors at the inquest into Faqiri's death were shown video of Thibeault's statement on Tuesday, and were told Thibeault chose not to appear in person because of "safety concerns." The details of his statement line up with what Thibeault told The Fifth Estate less than a year earlier.

WATCH | Former inmate speaks out about a day that haunts him:

A former inmate speaks out about a day that haunts him

5 years ago
Duration 0:56
John Thibeault says he saw jail guards beat Soleiman Faqiri

In his police interview in August 2019, Thibeault said under oath that he had not seen the video of Faqiri's final moments leading up to his restraint by guards. That video was made public for the first time earlier this month at the inquest into Faqiri's death at the Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay, Ont.

Thibeault told the officer he watched from his cell window as six guards transferred Faqiri down the hallway to what was supposed to be new his new cell, B10.

'He's not fighting back'

Along the way, he saw one guard whisper something into Faqiri's ear, causing him to begin pulling back.

"They got him agitated," Thibeault told the investigator. "He wasn't fighting, he just didn't want to go into that cell."

A guard then pepper-sprayed Faqiri and guards pushed him into the cell, Thibeault said.

All the while, Thibeault said his window shutter was left open, leaving him with a direct line of sight into Faqiri's cell. Inside, he said four of the guards "started beating the shit out of him." During the restraint, Faqiri stood and ran smack into the back of the cell multiple times, he added.

"He's not fighting back, he's just trying to get away from them," Thibeault said.

Thibeault said a female guard was standing on the bed looking "petrified," while another guard threw items from the cell into the hall.

During the 13-minute encounter, Thibeault told the officer, Faqiri was pepper-sprayed a second time, guards kicked at his head and one guard placed his knee on the back of Faqiri's neck.

Thibeault also made reference to guards "stomping" Faqiri's head on the ground and kicking his head off the bunk — something he also told The Fifth Estate. Asked if Faqiri's injuries reflected those particular actions, Ontario's chief forensic pathologist, Dr. Michael Pollanen, testified Tuesday that they did not.

Meanwhile, the inmates nearby started kicking at the doors and yelling for the guards to leave Faqiri alone, Thibeault said.

Around that time, the guard with his knee on Faqiri's neck yelled, "Stop resisting," Thibeault said. "I don't know why he was yelling that because buddy wasn't moving anymore."

'What happened that day is not right'

"I knew something was shady there," Thibeault told the officer, adding he believed the guard yelled that command not because Faqiri was actually resisting but perhaps because other inmates were piping up.

Thibeault said he then kicked at his own door and a guard took notice, running from Faqiri's cell and slamming Thibeault's shutter closed. After that, he couldn't see anything.

WATCH | Video shows final moments before Faqiri's deadly restraint:

Inquest into Soleiman Faqiri's death reveals how and when force was used on mentally-ill man

5 months ago
Duration 3:27
WARNING: This video contains violence and some viewers may find it disturbing. CBC News has annotated surveillance video of Soleiman Faqiri's final moments to document the extent of the force correctional officers used on him before he died in a jail cell on Dec. 15, 2016. The timeline is based on an agreed statement of facts entered at the Ontario inquest into Faqiri's death, which is currently underway.

Faqiri died at 3:47 p.m. that day after being repeatedly struck by guards, pepper sprayed twice, covered with a spit hood and placed on his stomach on the floor of a segregation cell. 

Thibeault said he only learned of Faqiri's death later that night when he was asked to speak with police.

At the time, Thibeault refused to speak to investigators. He told CBC's The Fifth Estate he kept quiet about what he saw for nearly two years, fearing what might happen to him in custody if guards knew he'd spoken out about them.

"Call me a snitch, call it whatever you want. So be it," he said at the time. "The last thing I want is my face on the news, on TV. But what happened that day is not right."

Police said 'insufficient evidence' for charges

At the time of his death, Faqiri, who suffered from schizoaffective disorder — a combination of schizophrenic and bipolar symptoms — was awaiting a medical evaluation at the Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences. He had been charged with aggravated assault, assault, and uttering threats following an altercation with a neighbour, but had not been convicted of any crime.

His cause of death, previously deemed unascertained, was later deemed to be: "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, while none of his injuries on their own were fatal, his death was the result of being held face down on his stomach and the injuries he suffered while being restrained and repeatedly struck.  

Whether a guard did in fact place a knee on Faqiri's neck is not clear in the agreed statements of facts. The statement says an officer "may" have done so. Pollanen testified Tuesday that his determination of Faqiri's cause of death did not depend on that action.

"If you remove the bruise from the neck, it does not change my conclusion," he said.

There were three successive police investigations into Faqiri's death, one by Kawartha Lakes Police Service, another by the Ontario Provincial Police, and then a reinvestigation by the OPP. In their last investigation, the OPP said there was "insufficient evidence" for charges to be laid.

At the time, lawyers for the family said told them it was impossible to know which of the six or more guards involved delivered the fatal blow

Jurors heard Monday that guards broke a number of use of force policies the day Faqiri died. A jail guard directly involved in restraining Faqiri testified that an internal investigation found guards carried out approximately 60 breaches of policy that day. Dave Surowiec told jurors policies were often followed only when "convenient."

The inquest is expected to conclude Friday.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Shanifa Nasser

Reporter-Editor

Shanifa Nasser is a journalist with CBC Toronto interested in the justice system, national security and stories with a heartbeat, with a focus on underrepresented communities. Her reporting on Canada's spy agency in 2020 earned an Amnesty International Award and an RTDNA. Her work has also been the basis of two investigative documentaries at The Fifth Estate. Contact her at: shanifa.nasser@cbc.ca

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