The Winnipeg Police Service (WPS) has been under near-constant criticism over the last year for numerous incidents of brutality, most notably the killing of three Indigenous people—including 16-year-old Eishia Hudson—in the span of 10 days.
Several newly formed organizations including Justice 4 Black Lives Winnipeg, Police-Free Schools Winnipeg, and Winnipeg Police Cause Harm (the latter of which I organize with) have hosted demonstrations, spoken at police board and city council meetings, and highlighted in various media venues the urgent need to defund and abolish the WPS and reallocate its massive budget to life-sustaining services.
But many people continue to live with the trauma and grief of losing loved ones to police violence, incidents that occurred long before the recent global upsurge of movements demanding police abolition following the killing of George Floyd by the Minneapolis Police Department.
It is critical that our movements connect with their ongoing struggles for justice, which are often isolated, under-resourced, and receive minimal media coverage.
One example of this is the killing of 44-year-old Richard Kakish by the Winnipeg Police in August 2017. Richard died after being kicked and repeatedly punched by officers during an arrest. He was a father of four, and grandfather of three.
Richard’s family recently reached out to Winnipeg Police Cause Harm to request assistance with getting the word out about a provincial inquest into his death. The inquest was called to “explore the circumstances and events leading to deaths for the purpose of finding out what, if anything, might be done to prevent similar deaths in the future.” The five-week inquest began on September 21, more than three years after Richard’s death.
Below, I speak with Richard’s daughter about her father’s killing and her family’s struggle for justice.
The killing of Richard Kakish
First, a bit more background information on what happened to Richard, based largely on reports from the Independent Investigation Unit (IIU), a provincial body that, according to its website, “investigates serious incidents involving the police, with integrity, professionalism and efficiency to ensure the respect and trust of all Manitobans.”
Richard was beaten while unarmed on August 9, 2017 because “he moved his hand toward his waist” during an arrest. A duffel bag that he had been carrying contained a firearm but he dropped it before the beating and arrest. He was kicked in the side and punched in the face, and complained soon afterwards about sore ribs. After being taken to a police station, an officer again punched Richard in the abdomen.
Richard was taken to Seven Oaks General Hospital, from which he was “medically cleared” and discharged. He was then taken to the Winnipeg Remand Centre, where he was detained. Medical information entered after he had been discharged from the hospital said that Richard had suffered a fractured rib.
Richard was then taken to the medical wing of the Remand Centre due to ongoing pain.
On August 11, Richard was taken from the Remand Centre to the Health Sciences Center after becoming unconscious, or what the IIU report described as “medical distress.” Richard died in hospital two days later, on August 13, following multiple surgeries. The cause of death in the autopsy report was listed as “hypovolemic shock due to or a consequence of a laceration of the spleen due to or as a consequence of blunt trauma of the torso.”
The pathologist noted the injuries—fractures in two ribs and hemorrhaging into surrounding tissues were “consistent with a powerful blow to his left flank.” The autopsy listed the death as a homicide.
The IIU was not notified about the death until August 16, 2017, a week after the beating and three days after Richard’s death. IIU director Zane Tessler said in a statement he would withhold any comment on how long it took police to notify the unit about the death until the investigation was completed and the incident report released. It does not appear that Tessler ever released a statement about this.
Winnipeg Police failed to disclose to the IIU an incident location or provide a description of who or what injured Richard. The IIU wrote “very little was known as to the extent of police officer involvement.”
The Winnipeg Police refused to supply police officer notes or reports to the IIU for the investigation. Of the two officers involved in the assaults, one did not respond to requests for interviews or notes and the other refused an interview, but provided reports and notes. When the IIU reached out to two cadets to arrange an interview, the Winnipeg Police Association intervened to refuse participation on behalf of the cadets.
Following its investigation, the IIU forwarded the file to the Manitoba Prosecution Service to seek opinion about whether criminal charges would be laid. The Crown said there would be no reasonable likelihood of conviction and no charges would be authorized against the officers. To date, no police officers have been arrested or charged for their role in Richard’s death.
I speak with Richard’s daughter about what happened.
How did your family find out what had happened to your father? What do you remember about the days between when he was assaulted by police and when he died?
Our family got a phone call on August 11, 2017 from the Health Sciences Centre (HSC) hospital stating that my father was not doing well, and that our family should come ASAP.
When we arrived, they put us all in a small room and said they would get the doctor to come chat with us shortly. Almost an hour later, a doctor came and said that my father was is in surgery as he went into medical shock, due to his spleen being ruptured, and that they were trying to stop the bleeding.
They explained what had happened to the best of their knowledge the days leading up to him being in their care.
They said he had complained of sore ribs when he was arrested and in the Remand Centre due to excessive force. He was assessed at Seven Oaks General Hospital and medically cleared the night of his arrest. Days later he then collapsed, which brought him to HSC.
They then moved us to a larger family room, where we waited many hours with no updates. There was a phone in the room where if you picked it up, it would call the front desk of the unit he was in. We would call and they would give us little to no information. My family finally decided to go home as it was getting very late. The next day I woke up at 4:30 AM, packed my 8-month-old baby up, and made my way to the hospital.
I arrived at 5:00 AM. I went right back to the family room we were waiting in the night before. I picked up the phone: a nurse answered, I explained that I was his daughter and that I’d like to see my father. Keep in mind I thought he was fine at this point; I had no idea what state he was in.
She said that he was not allowed any visitors yet. I asked, “even for a second? I came all this way with my child.” She said “no” due to the fact that he was an inmate from the Remand Centre, and it needed to be cleared first.
I left the hospital that day with confusion, sadness, anger, and most of all worry.
After a few days of going back and forth with the Remand Centre, on August 13, 2017, we finally got cleared to see my father.
I was the first to go with my mother. We walked in, went to the family room, called the unit, and said we were here to see my father. They said “ok, come on in.” We walked in and I instantly saw officers sitting outside his room. I walked up still expecting him to be awake at this point.
The officers asked who we were. They asked us to keep our bags outside the room and to not take any photos. They then told us to gown up, and how sorry they were.
I thought to myself why they would be sorry, and then I looked into the room. He looked like he was sleeping. He was hooked up to tons of machines. Before I could say a word, a nurse walked in. I said to her, “is he sleeping?” She said, “I am so sorry but he is on life support, and that they are waiting on his brain scan and that it should take no more than half an hour.” She said for us to take a seat next to him and when the scan came back that she would bring the doctor in.
My mom and I sat next to him. I had no words. My mom talked to him for a while and we decided to go and take a break. We went to walk outside, and I got a call from my auntie as she was now visiting with him. She said that we needed to come back as the doctor wanted to talk to see the whole family.
We went back and they put us all in a room. The doctor came in and explained all that had happened in the days leading up. They explained that due to the lack of oxygen he had when he was unconscious, that the brain scan came back and he was brain dead. He told us there would be a one percent chance he would wake up and live a normal life.
He said we needed to take him off life support. That evening we said goodbye to him, and they disconnected all the machines, with us all by his side.
What happened after your father died? Was the family contacted by any organizations to follow up?
Only the Independent Investigation Unit (IIU) connected with us, to give us an update. They also gave us back the clothes he had on when they were done their investigation.
They were very rude.
The Winnipeg Police largely refused to cooperate with the IIU investigation, with both of the involved officers refusing to be interviewed. What message did this send to the family?
That they are guilty. That they stand behind the inhumane treatment my father endured. That they are not sorry or feel bad for how things went down. That they do not care about his kids and family who now must carry this for the rest of our lives.
The autopsy report listed the death as a homicide, but the police officers have never been arrested or charged for their role. Have you heard any explanation for how this is possible?
A provincial inquest started on September 21 to “explore the circumstances and events leading to deaths for the purpose of finding out what, if anything, might be done to prevent similar deaths in the future.” What would you like to see come out of this inquest?
In a perfect world, I would have hoped these officers were charged, because if this was a “normal person” who did this they would be behind bars.
I want change. We all want change. This has been going on for far too long, things need to change and the WPS need to be held accountable.
I want new protocols where cameras are mandatory in holding cells, body cams, better training for individuals with mental health issues and addictions, and more disciplinary actions for officers—especially the main arresting officer, as this is his second inquest he has been involved in.
Two men have died on his watch. What does that have to say for the type of person he is? He should be fired immediately.
What can people do to help your family’s fight for justice?
Share, share, share! Get the word out. Rally behind us. Donate to a GoFundMe page to help pay for lawyer fees. My grandma, his mom, has taken out all her retirement savings funds to pay for this.
Our lawyers told us if we had $200,000, we would be able to get these officers behind bars where they belong. But we do not.
Please consider donating to the legal fund for Richard Kakish’s family by visiting the GoFundMe page here.
James Wilt is a freelance journalist and graduate student based in Winnipeg. He is a frequent contributor to CD, and has also written for Briarpatch, Passage, The Narwhal, National Observer, Vice Canada, and the Globe and Mail. James is the author of the recently published book, Do Androids Dream of Electric Cars? Public Transit in the Age of Google, Uber, and Elon Musk (Between the Lines Books). He organizes with the police abolitionist organization Winnipeg Police Cause Harm. You can follow him on Twitter at @james_m_wilt.