07/19/2012 10:18 EDT | Updated 09/18/2012 05:12 EDT

Downtown Eastside survivor found dead in jail cell

Police have launched an investigation into the death of a man in protective custody at a pre-trial centre in Port Coquitlam.

David Brodrick, 44, was found dead in his cell at the North Fraser Pre-trial Centre on Sunday, in a part of the jail set aside to keep prisoners safe who may otherwise be at risk in the general population.

“It's just absolutely devastating to hear this,” said Darwin Fisher, who works at the safe injection facility in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, where Brodrick was a well-known figure.

Fisher says Brodrick left for Ontario a few years ago, saying he felt unsafe. But he was back in Vancouver just weeks ago, looking to turn his life around.

“He talked about getting work [and housing]. This is stuff that I've never heard from Dave before ... the idea that Dave says ‘Hey could you help me find a job?’ was really great to hear,” said Fisher.

But Brodrick soon found himself in jail — held in a facility recognized by the province for overcrowding and understaffing.

Autopsy results have not been released as to the cause of his death. Police will only say that they're investigating an in-custody death.

“To lose this person that I've been in contact with for years and seen struggle for years, and finally see them in a good place. And now he's dead,” said Fisher.

The Toronto native spent much of his life on the streets since he was 12 years old. He spent more than a decade in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, much of it homeless and with addictions to a variety of drugs.

He was featured in a CBC Fifth Estate episode in 2009, called Staying Alive, which profiled Insite, the supervised injection site where Brodrick was a regular.

He spent much of his life in and out of jail, mostly for petty theft and small-time drug dealing.

But he also spent his time in prison as a counsellor, becoming the first peer counsellor for inmates with HIV in a federal penitentiary in Ontario.