London

Caleb Tubila Njoko died falling from a London, Ont., balcony. His mother had called police for help

Ontario's police watchdog is investigating the death of a second black person who fell 15-storeys from a London, Ont. balcony after police were called to respond to a 9-1-1 distress call his mother had made.

The 27-year-old was in distress when his mother called London police on May 5, 2020

Caleb Tubila Njoko died in hospital after falling from the 15th floor balcony at 85 Walnut Street in London, Ont. after police were called to the house for a person in distress. (Provided by Godelive Tutonda)

As tensions mount in Toronto surrounding the circumstances of a young black woman's fall from a balcony, Ontario's police watchdog is investigating the death of a young black man in London, Ont., who also fell from a highrise after police were called to help. 

Caleb Tubila Njoko, 27, died May 8, three days after he fell from the balcony of his mother's home at 85 Walnut Street.

His mother, Nelly Wendo, had called police when she worried his behaviour was growing more erratic after days of not sleeping and painful injuries sustained following an arrest on April 28. . 

"I called 9-1-1 for my son's mental health, to go to the hospital for help" Wendo told CBC News in her native French.

The case is eerily similar to that of 29-year-old Regis Korchinski-Paquet, who fell to her death from a Toronto balcony after what her family says was a 911 call that went terribly wrong.

In the London incident, Wendo said her son barricaded himself inside the apartment. She said police wanted to break down the door but she persuaded them not to. 

"Caleb became nervous around police," Wendo said. Caleb had been arrested the week prior and his mother wonders if that exacerbated his state of mind. 

"I was allowed to call him on his phone and he answered," Wendo said. "I asked him why he was making his mother suffer like this. I asked him if he knew his mother loved him. He said, 'Yes, maman, I know you love me.'"

Wendo said shortly after that call, police told her Njoko had gone over the balcony.

Despite the investigation entering its fifth week, Njoko's mother said no police officer has called to talk to her. She says she's gone to police headquarters to ask for information but is still waiting to hear from an officer.

London police issued a media statement May 6 saying they had been called to the apartment for a person in distress. The Special Investigations Unit (SIU) started an investigation that day.  

London police received a distress call to this London Community Housing building at 85 Walnut Street on May 5, 2020. (Google Maps)

The SIU said Wednesday that one officer is being investigated and three are being spoken to as witnesses.

The police watchdog did not answer questions about whether it had surveillance video of any part of the incident on Walnut street.

Njoko was remembered by friends as an ambitious young man who was passionate about music, a talent he inherited from his grandfather. 

'Brilliant and bright'

"From the first time I met him, I thought he was brilliant and bright. He always wanted to entertain the crowd," said Jonthan Hans, who attended London's École secondaire catholique Monseigneur-Bruyère with Njoko. 

Njoko, however, struggled with life, Hans said. 

"He struggled with what choices to make and that affected him," Hans said. "He didn't have the right resources, he had to fight for everything. If he wanted to get something, he had to get it on his own." 

Another friend, musician Dwight Simpson, said Njoko was outgoing but experienced a lot of disappointment in his life. 

"London does have those racial tensions, and he had a battle with that. He wanted to go back to Toronto," Simpson said. "It's frustrating as a young black man, you're seen as a threat, and people feel like they have authority over you." 

Failure of the mental health system

Caleb Tubila Njoko was born in Toronto but went to high school in London at École Monseigneur-Bruyère (Facebook)

Previous to the interaction in the apartment building, Njoko was arrested April 28 and charged with theft and obstructing a police officer after he allegedly tried to steal a pizza delivery vehicle left running outside the pizza shop on Hamilton Road. At the time, police said Njoko was treated for minor injuries after he and the driver got into a fight.

A witness to that incident, Roy McElmon, said police used "an incredible amount of professionalism and restraint" when dealing with Njoko, who McElmon said was combative. 

"He was fighting throughout the ordeal," McElmon said. Njoko was eventually taken from the scene by an ambulance, he said. 

"The failure here is on the mental health system," McElmon said. 

Njoko's friends agree. 

They say dispatching someone better trained to deal with a person crisis could have led to a better outcome for their friend.

"You know you're dealing with someone who is a mess. They could harm themselves. They're on the 15th floor. Why are you sending law enforcement, someone with a gun? Send a fire fighter, send a social worker," said Hans.

"Police are scary," he adds. They knew him." 

Toronto death

The circumstances of Njoko's death come in the same month that the SIU is investigating the death of another black person, Regis Korchinski-Paquet. The 29-year-old fell from a 24-storey balcony of her family's Toronto apartment May 27, in the presence of police. 

Her death has seen thousands of people on the streets demanding answers about the deaths of unarmed black people at the hands of officers. 

In the Toronto case, the SIU has revealed there is security camera footage that will be used in its investigation into Korchinski-Paquet's death. 

The SIU did not answer CBC's questions about surveillance footage at the Walnut Street apartment building in London, which is run by London Middlesex Community Housing (LMCH). 

A  LMCH spokesperson referred questions about the incident to police. 

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