A grieving family is calling for change and transparency following the death of their relative after an interaction with Winnipeg Police which was captured on video by multiple witnesses.
James Wood, 35, died on January 27 after police were called to a domestic incident at an apartment complex on Fairlane Avenue in the city’s Crestview neighborhood.
Wood’s family spoke for the first time since the incident, sharing their and anguish while calling for change.
“It’s very hard to lose somebody in this way. It shouldn’t happen,” said Carol Wood, James’ mom. “There is no need for what they did to my son.”
Police Chief Danny Smyth said during a January 28th press conference that a woman called, claiming her boyfriend was intoxicated and that she feared for her children’s safety. She said he later fell down the stairs from their second-floor suite and was lying on the ground when multiple officers responded to the scene.
Multiple witnesses recorded the incident and allege police used excessive force during the arrest including the use of a baton. Smyth said Wood became unresponsive when police were escorting him to the car, and was later pronounced dead.
“It was traumatizing watching the videos, like that’s something that’s forever embedded on our brains,” said Hilda Anderson-Pryz, a family spokesperson.
Wood’s family and community leaders are calling for change and transparency in how law enforcement interacts with the Indigenous community. They declined to provide more details about what they believe happened that night as they are consulting a lawyer.
“We want the truth to be uncovered, and we want a thorough and impartial investigation into the circumstances surrounding our son’s death,” said Brian Wood, James’ father.
“Without accountability structures and systems in place, this violence is going to continue, and Indigenous people are going to continue to experience it firsthand,” said Anderson-Pryz.
Speakers at the event demanded cultural competency training, the use of body cameras and police use of de-escalation techniques.
They’ve also asked for the creation of an independent oversight body led by Indigenous representation- separate from the existing IIU.
“This is not an isolated incident. It is a deeply rooted problem that requires immediate attention and a comprehensive solution,” said Chief Shirley Ducharme with O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation.
In a statement, Justice Minister Matt Wiebe said his department recognizes the grief the family is experiencing, and says there are a number of initiatives in the works to directly address the issues raised.
“The department is working to finalize the first round of police standards which include standards around high-risk investigations like missing persons and death investigations,” Wiebe said. “This is a first for Manitoba and these standards will apply to all police agencies. We are looking at opportunities to standardize and enhance police training, which includes best practices related to de-escalation training and cultural competencies.”
Wiebe added Manitoba Justice has hired a new director of Indigenous and Community Relations, which aims to increase transparency of IIU investigations.
The family is holding a public memorial for Woods Friday evening and more events in northern Manitoba in the days to come.