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Shawn Spaulding died after just 3 days in an Ontario jail. Now his family is seeking answers

The relatives of a Toronto man who died after just days in an Ontario jail say they’re desperate to know what happened — and that they’ve been told it could be months before they have answers.

Shawn Spaulding, 25, died at the Maplehurst Correctional Complex on March 3 — something his family learned later that day when they received a knock on their door from police.

“They basically expressed to the family, ‘Sorry, our condolences. Your son, your brother has passed away,'” his older sister, Shanika Spaulding, told CBC News. “They couldn’t give us any information.”

Over a month later, she says, her family remains in the dark as to what happened.

What the family does know is that Spaulding was transferred to the Milton facility on Feb. 28, a Thursday. Shanika Spaulding said she spoke with her brother by phone that day, not knowing it would be for the last time.

By Sunday, Spaulding was dead in his cell.

‘How does that happen?’

“How does that happen? If somebody is perfectly healthy, what happened?” she asked. “As a family, we’re shocked.”

CBC News has learned in the days after Spaulding’s death, three charges against him were withdrawn. They included failure to comply with bail conditions, possession of proceeds of crime not exceeding $5,000, and failure to attend court.

Ontario’s coroner’s office is investigating to determine the cause of death, but the family says it’s been told a coroner’s report could take six to nine months.

If the investigation finds the death was not the result of natural causes, a coroner’s inquest would be mandatory.

The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services would not comment on the status of its investigation, the circumstances of Spaulding’s death or whether there is any surveillance video of the incident, saying it would be inappropriate to do so.

‘I can’t have him back’

“The ministry takes its responsibility to ensure the safety and security of those in its custody very seriously,” spokesperson Andrew Morrison said in a statement.

Any time there is a death in custody, he added, the ministry performs an internal investigation to determine if the necessary procedures were followed, and police are contacted to determine if the death was the result of any criminal activity.

Halton Regional Police could not be reached for comment.

For now, Shanika Spaulding says the family is left only with memories of her brother, who she described as “down to earth” and “a light when he was around” — memories and questions.

In the days since, she says she’s only heard rumours about what may have happened to her brother, but so far knows nothing concrete.

For her family, the lack of answers also means a lack of closure.

“He’s my baby brother. I can’t have him back, my mother can’t have him back,” she said.

“For me to be okay with that, I need to know what happened, what took place and what I can do so that it doesn’t happen again.”

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