CALGARY (CityNews) – It was supposed to be a break in the case into the suspicious death of former CFL player Mike Labinjo, but a press conference last May turned into anything but.
CityNews has been following the story of Labinjo’s family, who accuse Calgary police of “sloppy” work in the investigation of the football player’s death.
More than two years after Labinjo was found dead in his southwest Calgary condo, and more than 10 months after the police news conference, there are still no charges.
“Her exact words to me was: ‘This is the break we’ve been waiting for. Give us a couple of months. We’re going to build a case and we’re going to go after these people for first-degree murder charges,’” said Randy Labinjo, Mike’s brother.
The family is speaking out about how Calgary police convinced them charges in the case were coming soon.
But their hopes were dashed. And they were left feeling like police were not being honest with them or the public – and no closer to catching Labinjo’s killer.
“[The officer] was like, ‘we have a bunch of rat traps set. We have a plan. We’re going to arrest these people.’”
For the first time, the family has revealed to CityNews the medical examiner’s report determined Labinjo died of an overdose.
Randy thought that would close the case. But then he says police called to say charges were coming.
The family travelled from Toronto to Calgary to sit down with the Calgary Police Service, and that’s when the tone of the investigation changed.
“An unnamed officer starts a conversation with us, and he goes: ‘99 per cent of people who are found with drugs in their system when they die, did it to themselves,’” recounted Randy.
“And me and my mother sat there and were like, ‘really? Okay?’ And I kind of thought in my head, this is your mindset? This is how you’re approaching every scene?”
ORIGINAL STORY: Former Stampeder Mike Labinjo dead
At that May 2020 news conference, police said public tips led to new information. And behind the scenes, Randy says investigators informed him that a witness had come forward but she was dismissed as being not credible.
Randy also alleges police knew the suspects identified in the theft, seen in the CCTV images they were getting ready to release to the public.
“He said, ‘if we put it out there, like we don’t know what’s going on and we don’t know these people,” said Randy. “‘We’re hoping that these people react and fall into our rat traps.’
“I don’t know what these rat traps are, it just sounds sloppy to me. You understand what I’m saying? I’m sitting at a table and they’re calling their plan rat traps and ‘oh let’s lie to the media.’”
The Labinjos also confronted CPS about alleged mistakes made from the start.
Family members were the first to report missing items from Labinjo’s home. Randy says he pointed police to the condo’s cameras. They also say they directed police to Labinjo’s daughter, who told family unknown people were in the home the night he died.
“Why didn’t your street cops check the cameras?” Randy said he asked police. ‘Well they made a mistake and they didn’t follow protocol and I can’t speak on what they did because I wasn’t there.’ And I said ‘well we are concerned about this, like this is very serious. Why was none of this done from the get-go?’”
“And I explained to them, I said ‘look if I didn’t come from Toronto, you guys wouldn’t have never found the tape and we would have just thought that Mike had died in his sleep.’”
The family describes the former Calgary Stampeders star as a life-long athlete who, for a long time, had to take regular drug tests. But they claim police pushed back against the idea that someone else could have given Labinjo a lethal dose of drugs.
“He told us during the conversation that ‘we don’t believe that anybody put the drugs into Mike, that he took it himself.’ I was like, ‘how do you know this?’” said Randy.
Their confidence in CPS badly eroded, the Labinjos say their questions about the police investigation were not welcome.
“When I sat down and had that conversation at the table, it almost felt like they were against us,” said Randy. “You know what I mean? It was like, ‘you guys came here and we’re telling you this is how it is.’
“I would think that a family member is coming to you and saying, ‘hey have you guys looked at this?’ And you go, ‘oh yeah sure, let’s look into it, let’s see if there’s something there.’ With the Calgary police: ‘No, you’re wrong, you don’t know what you’re talking about, you don’t know what you’re looking at.’”
The family also claims police questioned some of the people shown on the CCTV footage the same afternoon of the May news conference, but they were later released.
CPS says the investigation remains active: pic.twitter.com/LuFHIshvDg
— Crystal Laderas (@CrisLaderas) February 17, 2021
For its part, the Calgary Police Service says the Labinjo case is still active. And says officers continue to collect evidence and interview identified witnesses.
This is the second in a series of stories CityNews has on the death of Mike Labinjo. CityNews will have more on this story later this week.