Family of young Montreal man who died in custody haunted by questions about his death

Nicole Tshiteya says almost two months after her son David Kalubi Tshiteya died, she wants answers. She wants to know why he was arrested, what happened next and whether he had a medical emergency before he died.

'Is he really resting in peace?' brother wonders as police watchdog investigation continues

David Tshiteya Kalubi's mother Nicole Tshiteya and brother Jonathan Kalubi hold a photo of him at their Hochelaga-Maisonneuve home. David died while in police custody in early November. (Matt d'Amours/CBC)

Weeks after he died in police custody, the family of David Tshiteya Kalubi say they are no closer to knowing what happened to him.

The last time Nicole Tshiteya spoke to her son was the Saturday before he died. He called her to check in, and tell her that he loved her.

Tshiteya works in Gatineau and stays with her sister while she's there. That is where she was when, on Nov. 8, a week after her son's 23rd birthday, she was told he was dead. She was devastated.

Sitting in her Montreal home, a small, modestly furnished apartment in Montreal's Hochelaga-Maisonneuve neighbourhood, she speaks softly but firmly.

She wants answers. She wants to know why he was arrested, what happened next and whether he had a medical emergency before he died.

"David's not here. He was ripped from us. Did we have to reach this point?"

'Arrested because he was black?'

Fifteen investigators from Quebec's Bureau of Independent Investigations (BEI), the body that looks into cases when an individual dies in police custody, are investigating Kalubi's death.

The final report is still months away from being complete.

The BEI has said Kalubi was arrested on an outstanding warrant related to a municipal offence and taken into custody.

He spent the night in jail and was transferred to the municipal courthouse in Old Montreal to appear before a judge the next day, the BEI said.
A 23-year-old man died Wednesday morning while in custody at the Montreal municipal courthouse. (Johanne Lapierre/Radio-Canada)

He died at the courthouse.

Kalubi's brother, Jonathan Kalubi, says he was told by BEI investigators that his brother was found face down on the ground. He was taken to hospital, but could not be revived.

The family said the night he was arrested, Kalubi was getting a lift home with a friend. They had stopped at a dépanneur, and Kalubi went inside.

In the meantime, the police pulled up and started talking to his friend. At some point, the family says, Kalubi returned to the car, and the police turned their attention toward him.

But it is unclear why, they say.

The family was previously reticent to attribute what happened to Kabuli to racial profiling. But they are asking themselves why he attracted the police's attention that night.

"Did he get arrested because he did something bad? Or did he get arrested because he is black?" Jonathan said.

Outspoken, generous person

Jonathan said he was at home when two men in suits came to the door, looking for his mom, early last month.

They told him something had happened to his brother.

"I felt like my heart stopped, then I started feeling kind of nauseous and I asked them what happened."

The men insisted on speaking to his mother, but eventually they revealed to him that his brother had died.

His family says Kalubi was an outspoken, generous, endearing person who was passionate about music and wanted to be a sound engineer.
David Tshiteya Kalubi, 23, died on Nov. 8 after spending the night in police custody. (Quelyna M. Kalubi/Facebook)

"Everyone will remember him with a big smile on their face because that's the kind of guy he was. A stand-up guy, a straight-up guy," Jonathan said.

But Kalubi didn't always make the best choices, his brother said. He got himself in trouble more than once, and spent time in juvenile detention for "small, stupid stuff" like fighting and shoplifting.

Kalubi also has sickle cell anemia, a genetic disease that causes malformed red blood cells and can be excruciatingly painful.

The hard-to-manage disease meant he has spent his fair share of time in the hospital.

Jonathan says he believes that in his teen years, Kalubi constantly tried to prove he was as strong as others because of his condition.

Did disease play a role?

Family photos line the walls of the living room, including several pictures of Kalubi at different ages.

Before he died, his family says, Kalubi seemed to have gotten a handle on his life. He had his sickle cell under control, he had a new job, and he had a girlfriend.
Nicole Tshiteya and Jonathan Kalubi peruse their family photos. David turned 23 a week before he died. (CBC)

The family wonders if the disease flared up while he was in custody and if so, whether he was given proper care.

It was city employees' job to make sure he was OK, Jonathan said.

"Someone didn't do their job, because he's dead."

Tshiteya says losing her son has been overwhelming, more so because she hasn't been able to truly understand what happened to him.

The questions surrounding Kalubi's death still haunt his big brother, he says.

"I dream about him every day. Sometimes it's so intense, I feel he's that he's there with me, talking. What really happened? Is he really resting in peace?"

With files from Matt d'Amours