Sudden death in custody

A photograph of Nadeem Khan while he was a pilgrimage to Mecca in 2015.

“Officers, may I please have your names and can I see your badges?” These were the last words a Retreat mother and father heard from their son, before discovering that he was dead.

Nadeem Khan, 37, died on Thursday November 3 while being taken into custody by Rondebosch police outside the Riverside Mall, but Nadeem’s parents remain puzzled, questioning the circumstances surrounding their son’s mysterious death.

Nadeem’s father, Haroon Khan, explained that around 4pm on Thursday, Nadeem called for help, saying he had lost his car keys and was stranded outside the Riverside Mall.

“Nadeem had to pick up a friend at the Riverside Mall, but he lost his keys and said he thought he might have been pick-pocketed, because the zip of his bag was open,” Mr Khan said.

Nadeem had then asked his parents to deposit some money into his account so that he could get home, but his mother was unable to do so, having already left the bank.

It is believed Nadeem, who is a qualified dental technician, had then tried to sell one of his iPhones, which belonged to his estranged wife. “He also contacted his estranged wife to ask for the password so that he could sell the phone,” Mr Khan explained. “He had two iPhones, which both belonged to him.”

The family believe that somebody who noticed Nadeem trying to sell the phone, must have reported him to the Rondebosch police, who responded to the call.

Mr Khan confirmed that he returned his son’s call, already having made arrangements to have the car collected by a towing service. But when Nadeem returned the phone call, his heartbroken parents had no idea that it would be the last time they heard his voice.

“We heard him on the phone telling the police that the cellphone was his and we then asked him to ask the officers for their names and details. We heard him asking the officers for the details and soon after that, the phone went dead,” Mr Khan said.

Nadeem’s parents were on their way to the Riverside Mall to collect their son at the time, but before arriving, his mother called the cellphone once again, this time, a police officer answered: “He (police officer) asked me, ‘who is this?’ I responded and told him that we are his parents, where is our son. He asked us twice whether our son was asthmatic, I answered saying no and then he said we needed to come to the Rondebosch police station immediately.”

His parents first went around to Nadeem’s car to check whether the towing service had arrived and once the car was on its way, they went to the police station, where they waited for more than an hour in the waiting room.

“We arrived, approached the front desk and they said we should have a seat. By this time, we had no clue whether our son was alive or even in jail,” Mr Khan said.

Two officers then collected the Khans from the waiting room, took them to another room and a trauma counsellor then gave them the chilling news that Nadeem, who was on medication to treat his bipolar disorder, was dead.

“We were in complete shock, because it’s not what we were expecting to hear. I mean, we had just spoken to our son over an hour ago and then to be told that he is dead? We were devastated by the news,” Mr Khan said.

Now the family are demanding answers from police.

“There are a lot of discrepancies and a lot of questions being asked. Even the autopsy report could not give us answers, as his (cause of) death was labelled as ‘unknown’. But I want to know what happened to my son. What happened to him from the time the phone died to the time that he died? We want answers,” Mr Khan said.

“He was professional person that was in a spot of bother. We can only imagine the stress and trauma he was going through at the time. Arrested and tackled by police officers, then thrown into the back of the van. We want to know what happened to our son.”

Rondebosch police was contacted for comment but they said the matter was being handled by the provincial police, who then said the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) was investing the circumstances surrounding Nadeem’s death.

National Ipid spokesperson, Moses Dlamini, confirmed that the investigation into the death of Nadeem was already under way, after it was discovered that he had died in the back of the police vehicle.

Mr Dlamini said police received information that Nadeem had been selling cellphones outside the Pick * Pay in Rondebosch Main Road, across the road from Rondebosch police station.

“SAPS members attended to the complaint and found the deceased at the scene with cellphones. SAPS members arrived on the scene and managed to handcuff the deceased,” Mr Dlamini said.

He added that the Nadeem had been placed in the back of the police vehicle with his hands cuffed behind his back and on arrival at the station, around 6.10pm, the officers opened the back door of the vehicle and removed Nadeem.

“They observed that he was hyperventilating and struggling to breathe. Paramedics were called and they declared (him) dead,” Mr Dlamini said.

A post mortem was conducted on Friday November 4, as Nadeem was to be buried according to Muslim rites on the same day, but the exact cause of death is still unknown.

Mr Dlamini confirmed that an inquest docket had been registered but that no arrests have been made.