Family of man apparently beaten to death in jail waiting for answers
MONTREAL -- The mother of a 25-year-old man who appears to have been beaten to death in a Montreal jail on Monday says her family is struggling to get basic information from authorities.
Shaquille Sacha Joseph was awaiting a bail hearing in the Rivière-des-Prairies provincial jail in east-end Montreal when he was taken to hospital early Monday afternoon.
His mother says a doctor told her he was brain-dead on arrival. He died Tuesday.
After seeing his body, she says the prison must answer publicly for what happened to him.
“On his hands there were no marks. He didn’t defend himself,” said Dianick Joseph, Joseph’s mother. But his head was severely injured, covered in deep cuts and his face swollen.
She can see no explanation for his condition except that he was restrained or held down in some way, she said.
“How could somebody have given the blows to the head without him reacting?” she said. “It’s impossible.”
Quebec provincial police are investigating Joseph’s death as a murder, they said. But Quebec’s public security department said Tuesday that it couldn’t respond to requests for comment until after the statutory holiday.
Joseph’s lawyer says she wasn’t informed of her client’s death until she showed up in court on Tuesday to represent him.
He had died that morning and had been in a coma for nearly 24 hours.
“Nobody called me to let me know. Nobody,” lawyer Vicky Powell told CTV News.
“When I went to court they let me know that something happened. They didn’t want to let me know what happened,” she said.
“I called the jail—they weren’t able to tell me nothing… I called Sacre-Coeur [Hospital] but they didn’t want to let me know.”
It will likely be hard to piece together how Joseph died for a few reasons, said Powell.
For one, Rivière-des-Prairies jail doesn’t have surveillance cameras, she said.
“It’s not a safe prison... that’s what I know,” she said. “They don't have any cameras—nowhere in RDP jail.”
When inmates have complained of assault there in the past, whether by other prisoners or guards, lawyers have requested access to camera footage, but “every time we ask it, it’s ‘no camera,’” she said. “That’s pretty sad.”
Some other provincial jails do have cameras, such as Bordeaux, which has them in some of its ranges, Powell said.
RDP’s ranges are relatively small, each with only about 30 men, she said.
Joseph was out of touch with his lawyer and family during his two weeks in jail because he was in mandatory COVID-19 quarantine, like all new inmates, according to Powell. That made it nearly impossible for her to reach him—they spoke twice for a few minutes.
He was released into the general population on Monday, she said, just hours before the incident that led to his death.
He gave no sign of being concerned about other people at the prison, she said.
“He was not scared, he was not worried,” she said.
“He was happy to go out, he was glad to go out, because the 14 days [in quarantine] was disgusting,” with showers not allowed.
She described him as a “calm and quiet” person who didn’t talk much. His family is originally from Haiti and they live in northern Montreal.
He was facing charges of domestic assault and breach of probation and had a hearing scheduled for July. He had served time before, said Powell, who has represented him since 2017, but has never been convicted of a violent offence.
While one media outlet reported Wednesday that he was in a gang, Powell said there was no truth to that.
“He was not,” she said.
His mother said she was shocked to see her son’s body on Tuesday and was trying to piece together how the midday attack could have been so apparently one-sided.
“All I saw is that my son had gotten some blows to the head, and when I saw his wrists, it was as if his wrists had been bound, because there was no blood around his nails, there was no injury, no cuts, nothing on his hands,” said Dianick Joseph.
“There must be somebody who saw what happened,” she said.
“His head was covered in blood, his face swollen, his scalp bloody. Everything was bloody, but just his head, not his arms, not his shoulders,” she said.
When she tried to take photos, the jail guards at the hospital told her she couldn’t, she said.
His mother said that after one call from a jail chaplain at 3 p.m. Monday to notify the family that Joseph had been taken to hospital, she’s had no word from Quebec’s corrections system and not even a preliminary explanation for his death.
A spokesman for Quebec provincial police, Sgt. Claude Denis, said the prison transferred responsibility for the case to police at 2 p.m. on Monday, shortly after he was transported to hospital.
The force can’t comment further as the investigation is ongoing, Denis said.