Family of former Stampeder believe police mishandled homicide investigation

·5 min read
Mike Labinjo played with the Calgary Stampeders from 2007 to 2010 and helped the team win the Grey Cup in 2008.
Mike Labinjo played with the Calgary Stampeders from 2007 to 2010 and helped the team win the Grey Cup in 2008.

(Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press - image credit)

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, are shown at Calgary police headquarters in May 2020, when they travelled from Toronto in an appeal for more information on his death.
Mike Labinjo's mother, Margaret, and brother, Randy, are shown at Calgary police headquarters in May 2020, when they travelled from Toronto in an appeal for more information on his death.

Mike Labinjo's mother, Margaret, and brother, Randy, are shown at Calgary police headquarters in May 2020, when they travelled from Toronto in an appeal for more information on his death.

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."

These two women are among the four people that police say entered Mike Labinjo's apartment on the night he died.
These two women are among the four people that police say entered Mike Labinjo's apartment on the night he died.

These two women are among the four people that police say entered Mike Labinjo's apartment on the night he died.

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 Labinjo the night he died.
Calgary police believe this person is one of four who stole from Labinjo the night he died.

Calgary police believe this person is one of four who stole from Labinjo the night he died.

A break in the case

More than 1½ years later, the Labinjos, who were 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 Labinjo's apartment on the same night he died.
These security camera stills show suspects carrying items out of Labinjo's apartment on the same night he died.

These security camera stills show suspects carrying items out of Labinjo's apartment on the same night he died.

4 suspects in theft

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 the 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, all of whom are suspects in the robbery.

Randy has a theory about what happened in his brother's apartment the night he died.

"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.

Labinjo, right, celebrates a sack in 2009.
Labinjo, right, celebrates a sack in 2009.

Labinjo, right, celebrates a sack in 2009.

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."

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.
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.

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.

'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 to 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."