Family of deceased Stampeder Mike Labinjo calls out Calgary Police for ‘sloppy’ investigation

Photo courtesy: Calgary Stampeders

Ten months after going public in the hopes of finding more information in the suspicious death of their loved one, the family of former Calgary Stampeders defensive lineman Mike Labinjo are breaking their silence once again.

The veteran NFLer and Grey Cup champion was found dead in his home in September of 2018, but the death was not officially deemed suspicious until over a year later when police approached the public for information on four unknown individuals seen entering the residence on the day in question.

Now, Labinjo’s brother Randy is calling out the Calgary Police for what he sees as “sloppy” police work and a lack of movement since the case went public.

“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,’” Randy told Crystal Laderas with 660 News in Calgary.

That never came to fruition and the death of a CFL fan favourite remains unsolved.

Labinjo, a Toronto native, remained in Calgary following his football career, working at Solengo Capital and FirstService Residential. The six-foot, 285-pound edge rusher played collegiately at Michigan State before being taken 25th overall in the third round of the 2003 CFL draft by the Stampeders

Instead of heading to the CFL, Labinjo signed as a free agent with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2004. He played in the team’s 24-21 Super Bowl loss to the New England Patriots and later served stints with the Indianapolis Colts and Miami Dolphins

In all, Labinjo appeared in 10 career NFL games, registering 19 tackles and a forced fumble.

After jumping to the CFL in 2007, Labinjo appeared in 44 career games with Calgary, recording 61 tackles (nine for a loss), seven special-teams tackles, six sacks, seven knockdowns and two fumble recoveries.

He is best remembered as the hero of the 2008 West Division Final, when he registered eight tackles and three sacks in Calgary’s 22-18 win over the B.C. Lions. Labinjo was also a key figure for Calgary in its Grey Cup win over Montreal with three tackles, one sack and four pass deflections.

The family had been skeptical of the competency of Calgary Police from the start. Labinjo’s death was originally ruled accidental after the cause of death was determined as a drug overdose. It wasn’t until the family arrived from Toronto that questions began to arise.

It was them who first reported a number of missing personal effects in Labinjo’s home, including his Grey Cup championship ring. Randy says he had to direct the investigators to the condo’s security cameras and to Labinjo’s daughter, who told the family people unknown to her were in the home that day.

“Why didn’t your street cops check the cameras?” Randy says he asked. “‘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?’”

The family’s concerns led to the public call for information into the missing items and suspicious persons, but Randy insists that press conference was disingenuous. Police told the family that they knew who the individuals were ahead of time.

“He said, ‘If we put it out there, like we don’t know what’s going on and we don’t know these people,’” Randy recounts. “‘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.’”

After the press conference, the family believes crucial leads were dismissed. A witness came forward with an account of the crime but wasn’t considered credible.

“This main suspect told her that she killed Mike with fentanyl to rob him and that it was a set up,” Randy recalls. “And Calgary police dismissed her, while we were in Calgary doing the press release, they’re telling us this person isn’t credible anymore.”

Throughout the process, the family says police have been resistant to the idea that the drugs that killed Labinjo weren’t self-administered, ignoring his status as a long-time athlete with a history of regular drug testing.

“When I sat down and had that conversation at the table, it almost felt like they were against us. You know what I mean? It was like, ‘You guys came here and we’re telling you this is how it is,'” Randy says.

“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 Calgary Police disagree with that assessment.

“Investigators continue to collect evidence and speak with any identified witnesses,” the department said in an official statement. “To protect the integrity of this investigation we are unable to speak further about any details that may later be used to the detriment of potential court proceedings.”

“We appreciate Mr. Labinjo’s family is seeking justice and we are committed to doing everything we can to determine exactly what led to his death.”

In the meantime, the family are left with serious questions about the approach taken by Calgary Police and will continue to suffer without closure.