Tragic Loss And Unanswered Questions: The Winnipeg Police Shooting of Afolabi Stephen Opaso.
The heartbreaking news of Afolabi Stephen Opaso’s death in Winnipeg has left a community in mourning and raised serious concerns about the handling of mental health crises by law enforcement. At just 19 years old, Opaso, an international student from Nigeria studying at the University of Manitoba, tragically lost his life in an encounter with the police on December 31, 2023, at an apartment building at 77 University Cres.
According to Winnipeg Police Chief Danny Smyth, officers responded to a distress call reporting an individual behaving erratically, potentially armed, at an apartment building. Upon arrival, officers encountered Opaso, allegedly undergoing a mental health crisis and wielding two knives. Smyth stated, “The man was inside of a suite in the apartment with a 19-year-old woman and man, 21…the three appeared to know each other.” Smyth also mentioned, “Our officers were involved in a use-of-force encounter that resulted in the male being shot by one of our officers.”
Police reported that Opaso was taken to the hospital in critical condition and succumbed to his injuries. The two other individuals in the suite emerged unharmed from the tragic incident, underscoring the lethal nature of the encounter.
Lawyer Jean-René Dominique Kwilu, representing Opaso’s family, shed light on the distressing situation. Kwilu stated, “According to witnesses I have spoken to, Opaso was having a mental health episode when one of the people in the suite called 911.” He further emphasized, “They made sure they said this was a mental health situation, that the person is their friend, you know, is not a danger to anyone. It was just they needed assistance.”
The family’s legal representative conveyed the family’s anguish over losing their son under such distressing circumstances. Kwilu expressed, “The family is overwhelmed… talking to them right now is challenging because every time they are crying and upset.” Opaso’s aspirations for education in Canada were tragically cut short, leaving his loved ones grappling with an irreparable loss.
The incident has reignited vital discussions about law enforcement protocols when addressing mental health crises. Initiatives like the Alternative Response to Citizens in Crisis (ARCC) program aim to pair officers with mental health clinicians. However, their effectiveness has been questioned due to challenges such as staffing shortages.
he Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba (IIU) is actively investigating the case, seeking witness accounts and evidence. Opaso’s family seeks transparent insights, and the community seeks clarity regarding the events that led to this tragic incident.
Our deepest sympathies and unwavering support are extended to Afolabi Stephen Opaso’s bereaved family and friends during this challenging period.