WARNING: This story contains disturbing videos and details.
William Ahmo uttered the words “I can’t breathe” more than 20 times as officers surrounded and restrained him in a Manitoba jail, video footage of his final hours at Headingley Correctional Center shows.
The video, filmed on a handheld camera inside the jail more than two years ago, was shown in a Winnipeg courtroom last week during the first day of the trial of the corrections officer facing charges in Ahmo’s death.
Robert Jeffrey Morden, a corrections officer who was captain of Headingley’s emergency response unit, pleaded not guilty to criminal negligence causing death and failing to provide the necessaries of life.
Ahmo, 45, who was a prisoner at Headingley, was taken to hospital with medical problems following a confrontation on February 7, 2021 with prison officers in a jail common room.
He died a week later. Manitoba’s chief medical examiner ruled his death a homicide.
Breaking: viewed the nearly 21-minute video of the Feb. 7 incident, which shows what begins as a confrontation between Ahmo and correctional officers and ends with him receiving emergency first aid.
Provincial Court Judge Tony Cellitti, who is presiding over Morden’s trial, approved the video’s release on Friday.
The lawyer representing Ahmo’s family in a civil lawsuit told CBC they wanted the video to be made public.
WARNING: The video and descriptions below contain graphic content.
An excerpt from a 21-minute video showing the incident on February 7, 2021:
Fight with the officers
The footage begins after Ahmo created a riot in the jail and then locked other inmates in their cells.
In another video shown in court, Ahmo is heard telling crisis negotiator Michel Jolicoeur that he was upset after hearing a racist joke earlier that day.
In the 21-minute video, Ahmo is seen ripping a water tank and televisions from the wall, smashing televisions on the floor and throwing objects at the protective glass of a safe staff area.
At the beginning of the video, Ahmo stands at the top of a ladder swinging the handle of a mop, as officers fire projectiles at him, described in court as “flash bangs” and stinger grenades, which release a chemical irritant. , from the floor below. Ahmo holds a trash can as a shield before walking down the stairs and swings the handle at the officers.
A group of at least seven officers with shields and batons knock Ahmo to the ground. A struggle ensues for about two minutes until officers restrain his wrists and ankles.
Ahmo is then taken out of the common area into another room, still face down on the floor.
“You’re crushing my neck,” Ahmo says.
A pair of officers appear to be kneeling on their backs and one of them appears to have a hand on the back of his head.
Ahmo first tells the guards that he can’t breathe about seven minutes into the video, two minutes after he was fully restrained.
An officer continues to restrain Ahmo face down, with his arms and legs pinned down and an officer’s knee on Ahmo’s upper back, a restraint known as a prone restraint, the court was told.
A correctional officer says, “He can’t breathe, so can you make sure he can breathe?”
A man in jeans and medical gloves appears and looks at Ahmo. A correctional officer giving orders to the group asks, “Is this okay?”
“That’s fine,” is the response, and the officer giving the orders confirms that a nurse has checked Ahmo.
Ahmo continues to exclaim that he cannot breathe over and over again, as the officers place him in a chair with wheels and an upright backrest. His arms remain tied behind his back and Ahmo is slumped over.
Morden can be heard off-camera yelling, “If you’re talking to us, you can breathe!”
“Suffocation,” Ahmo responds.
He remains slumped in the chair, moaning and gasping as the officers struggle to hold him in the chair.
“Calm down!” an officer shouts.
“I can’t breathe!” Ahmo exclaims and repeats five more times.
Shortly after, an officer can be heard yelling at Ahmo and telling him to stop moving. Ahmo responds by telling her that he would stop moving if “you let me breathe.”
Ahmo can be heard panting through a hood around 11 minutes into the video. Seconds later, the agents attack him again. He begins to scream as he struggles in the chair. An officer is seen kneeing him in the stomach just before the video reaches 12 minutes.
The officers continue to restrain Ahmo in the chair, crowding and piling on top of him as he struggles, collapses, and continues to crow that he can’t breathe.
A muffled “please” is heard.
The officer giving orders tells the group to “take him to the ground” but “keep control of him!”
Ahmo falls to the ground face up and screams that he can’t breathe two last times.
Throughout the footage he repeated this phrase at least 23 times.
The group wrestles him to the ground about 14 minutes into the video when an officer yells “let him sit there.”
Seconds later, the same officer can be heard saying “let him cool. Let’s get the body to as few people as we need.” However, at least five officers can be seen holding him down.
“Do you need help?” the officer says to Ahmo twice, with no response. “Is he breathing?” he asks. Someone says yes.
Shortly after, Ahmo is placed in a “recovery position” and correctional officers attempt to locate his pulse. An officer can be heard asking: “So he’s still okay? Is he still alive?”
Another officer says, “He’s still alive.”
Seconds later, another officer can be heard saying, “He is currently unresponsive, but he has a pulse, a heartbeat and is breathing.”
Ahmo can hear a noise that sounds like snoring as this conversation is going on and the officers notice it as well.
‘The breathing that occurs at the end of life’: pathologist
At Morden’s trial earlier this week, forensic pathologist Dr. Charles Littman said Ahmo showed signs of agonal breathing, a type of breathing that sounds like someone gasping for air, in the video.
“It’s breathing that happens at the end of life,” Littman testified. “There are several breaths, a reflex reaction, that cause the brain to run out of oxygen.”
Near the end of the video, Ahmo is dragged back into the chair. A corrections officer tells the group to “watch his head” and another officer quickly removes it. At this point, Ahmo is sitting in the chair with his head back and his mouth open.
Shortly after, a correctional officer says, “He’s not in a big world of hurt right now,” as the 45-year-old man lies with his head back and mouth open, unresponsive in the chair.
Toward the end of the video, a different nurse says she needs to give Ahmo oxygen and initiate a “code red,” meaning the person has no pulse. Ahmo is turned face up.
Another person begins giving him oxygen as officers continue to restrain his limbs before the video ends.
Ahmo was then taken to hospital, where he died on February 14, 2021.
Morden’s judge-only trial began Sept. 1 and will resume Sept. 25, when Morden’s attorney is expected to call defense witnesses.