‘These people killed my brother’: Family of former Stampeder believe police mishandled homicide investigation

From the moment he walked into his dead brother’s apartment, Randy Labinjo knew he was looking at a crime scene. 

Randy noticed what Calgary police had seemed to miss: half-filled garbage bags were spread around the home, dresser drawers in his brother’s bedroom had been emptied and there was nothing but an imprint in the spot where Mike Labinjo kept his safe.

Some of Mike’s sports memorabilia was missing as well, including two football championship rings — one from Labinjo’s time with the Philadelphia Eagles and another from the Stampeders’ 2008 Grey Cup win.

The former CFL linebacker played for the Calgary Stampeders, including in 2008 when he was a key player, helping the team earn its sixth championship. 

Mike Labinjo, 38, died on Sept. 21, 2018. Police initially believed Mike died in his sleep.

Nearly two years after his death, the Calgary Police Service announced that investigators believed the death to be suspicious. 

But Mike’s brother and mother — Randy and Margaret Labinjo — feel police have mishandled the investigation.

“We sit here, we know something has happened and nobody is really doing anything about it,” said Randy Labinjo, speaking with the Calgary Eyeopener’s David Gray. 

“They’re just kind of sitting back telling us there’s nothing that can be done.”

Mike Labinjo’s mother Margaret and brother Randy appear at Calgary police headquarters in an effort to appeal to the public for more information on his death. (Calgary Police Service/YouTube.com)

Police take 24 hours to show up 

Randy says that after they were informed of Mike’s death, he and his mother travelled from Toronto to Calgary to take care of his affairs. 

That’s when the pair entered the apartment to find some of Mike’s belongings strewn about, with others missing.

Randy called police immediately to report his concerns. But it took CPS 24 hours to send an officer. 

“I thought that was kind of strange in its own right,” said Randy. “Mike had just passed away and now we’re discovering his stuff is missing, so we thought that they would send somebody out to us immediately and that was not the case.”

Police have not provided an update since releasing images of four people who entered Mike Labinjo’s apartment on the night he died. (Calgary Police Service)

Security camera footage not immediately collected

A patrol officer eventually showed up and Randy detailed his brother’s missing items. 

Randy says he asked the officer if police had looked at the security cameras in the hallway and at Mike’s front door. 

“I asked him if they had taken a look at the cameras to see if there was anybody present when mike passed away, and his response to me was, ‘There’s cameras?'”

The officer acknowledged police had not yet viewed the recorded footage and said he would look into it, according to Randy.

Calgary police believe this person is one of four who stole from Mike Labinjo the night he died in what is now considered suspicious circumstances. (Calgary Police Service)

A break in the case

More than a year-and-a-half later, the Labinjos, now back in Toronto, received a call from Calgary police. 

There was a break in the case, said police.

“‘Give us a couple months, we’re going to build a case and we’re going to call you for you to come and be present when we charge these people with first-degree murder charges,'” Randy says he was told. 

In May 2020, mid-pandemic, Randy and Margaret drove to Calgary from Toronto. 

The mother and son were full of hope. 

But when they arrived, police sat them down and explained they had a working theory about what happened and who was responsible. They even had a witness. But they needed more for the case to be held up in court.

These security camera stills show suspects carrying items out of Mike Labinjo’s apartment on the same night he died. (Calgary Police Service)

4 suspects

The family and CPS went ahead with a press conference asking the public for information. It was the first time police had acknowledged publicly that they had labelled Mike Labinjo’s death as suspicious. 

CPS gave details of some of the items missing — including the two championship rings and other sports memorabilia — the same items Randy had noticed missing 20 months earlier. 

Police also released photos of four people who were in Mike’s apartment that night: two women, two men.

“From Day 1, I have told the police these people killed my brother and they refused to entertain that idea. And it wasn’t until they got this witness that came in on their own that they actually started to listen to us,” said Randy.

Calgary Stampeders’ Mike Labinjo, right, celebrates a sack in 2009. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

The press conference

Both mother and son appeared on camera from police headquarters that day, seated at a makeshift desk.

They’d been asked by investigators to talk about Mike; to talk about what he was like, to help with the public plea for information. 

“I love him,” Randy said looking at the camera that day. 

“He was caring, kind, gentle and a loving person.”

Stampeders linebacker Mike Labinjo died 10 years after this photo was taken at the Montreal airport ahead of the Stamps 2008 Grey Cup win. His mother says she will ‘fight to the end for justice’ in his death. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

‘I will fight to the end,’ says Margaret Labinjo

But it’s been 10 months since the press conference and there have been no more updates. No news. No charges.

And the Labinjos feel police have failed them. Failed Mike. 

In a written statement, police said they appreciate the family is seeking justice and are committed solving the case.  

“Investigators continue to collect evidence and speak with any identified witnesses,” police said. 

“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.”

At that press conference last May, Margaret addressed her son directly, making him a promise. 

“I am going to make sure whoever did this to you is held responsible,” said Margaret. 

“I will fight to the end for justice to be served. I love you son. Forever.”

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