Abdirahman Abdi

Ottawa policeman found not guilty in death of black man during arrest

20 October, 2020

Daniel Montsion

An Ottawa policeman has been cleared of charges relating to the 2016 death of a black man during an arrest.

Constable Daniel Montsion was found not guilty of manslaughter and assault charges connected with the death of Abdirahman Abdi, a Somali-Canadian.

Abdi’s family said the 37-year-old was suffering mental health issues.

The high-profile Ottawa case, and subsequent charges against a policeman, sparked protests and a debate about policing and race in the city.

In March 2017, the provincial police watchdog, the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), laid charges against Ottawa Police Service Constable Daniel Montsion

He was subsequently charged with manslaughter, aggravated assault, and assault with a weapon.

What happened?

On a Sunday morning in July 2016, police responded to an emergency call from an Ottawa coffee shop. Witnesses there at the time, and during the court case, alleged that Abdi had assaulted women in the cafe and in the neighbourhood nearby.

Abdi fled on foot, a chase that ended in a confrontation with police a few blocks away. During that interaction, Abdi suffered what the SIU called “medical distress”. He later died in hospital.

Witness video shot after the confrontation with police and posted on YouTube shows Abdi handcuffed and bleeding on the ground.

Mr Montsion was one of two Ottawa police officers involved in the arrest.

Abdi’s death led to several protests in Ottawa, Montreal, and Toronto and calls for the SIU – which investigates incidents involving police that result in death, serious injury or allegations of sexual assault – to publicly release the results of their investigation.

Hundreds of people attended the funeral for him at an Ottawa mosque, including Mayor Jim Watson.

According to his family, Abdi arrived in Canada from Somalia in 2009.

What did the judge rule?

Justice Robert Kelly ruled that crown prosecutors had failed to prove that Mr Montsion used an amount of force that would be considered unreasonable for a police officer making an arrest.

“The crown has not discharged its onus of proving beyond a reasonable doubt an unlawful act or unreasonable conduct for manslaughter or an unjustified assault to ground liability on the other two charges,” he said. “In the end, I am left with a reasonable doubt on each of the three main issues.”

Much of the case focused on Mr Montsion’s gloves, which had hard plates shielding the wearer’s knuckles. Prosecutors argued that they should be considered weapons, but Mr Montsion’s defence team said they were standard issue for police and meant for the user’s protection.

Abdi’s official cause of death was a hypoxic brain injury following a heart attack. The court was told he had underlying heart issues, including blocked arteries.

A group formed after Abdi’s death, called the Justice for Abdirahman Coalition, is due to hold a press conference later on Tuesday.

Reacting to the verdict, Ottawa City Councilor Jeff Leiper, who represents the part of the city where Abdi lived, tweeted an apology to his family.

“To Abdirahman Abdi’s family, loved ones and his community, I’m sorry,” he wrote.

“Justice requires that we end state and societal sanction of violence perpetuated against the poor, the sick, and the racialized. Today’s judgment is an indictment of our city and country.”