An Ottawa cop has been charged with manslaughter in the death of Abdirahman Abdi, a Somali-Canadian who died last summer following a violent confrontation with police.
Daniel Montsion, a 36-year-old Ottawa Police Service constable, also faces one count of aggravated assault, and one count of assault with a weapon in the death of Abdi, a 37-year-old man who had a history of mental illness.
Montsion will appear in court on March 29, according to a Monday press release from Ontario’s police watchdog, the Special Investigations Unit.
Montsion and Const. Dave Weir, both seen in a video that captured Abdi laying handcuffed on the ground in a pool of his own blood in July, were originally named subject officers in the Special Investigation Unit’s investigation.
But Weir, according to the Ottawa Citizen, was later designated a witness officer, while the police continued to investigate Montsion’s role.
“I don’t think that we can draw any other conclusions other than what happened that day was extremely unfortunate.”
The SIU has not disclosed Abdi’s cause of death, but family spokesperson Nimao Ali told the Citizen that doctors said a lack of oxygen to his brain may have been a factor, and that Abdi was dead 45 minutes before he got to the hospital.
In a press conference on Monday, lawyer Lawrence Greenspon said the family had been going through a “difficult time” and was “pleased” with the manslaughter charge. The family intends to sue the police in civil court, Greenspon said.
“I don’t think that we can draw any other conclusions other than what happened that day was extremely unfortunate, and now it’s going to be before the courts to see if it can be characterized as anything more than that,” he said.
While Ottawa Police Chief Charles Bordeleau wouldn’t comment on the investigation or the criminal case, he wrote in a statement that “the officer involved, like any member of the community going through a similar process, deserves to be treated fairly.”
Police were called to a coffee shop that morning for “reports of a man causing a disturbance,” according to an SIU news release from that day.
“The officer involved, like any member of the community going through a similar process, deserves to be treated fairly.”
Owner Tracey Clark, who didn’t see the incident herself but heard about it from staff, told the CBC at the time, that they described it as “assault” and “harassment” of multiple people.
“It was a rapidly escalating situation where Mr. Abdi did harass a customer, and more than one, and several customers [sought] to move him out of the store to restrain him until police could arrive,” said Clark.
Police arrived and chased Abdi on foot, eventually taking him down in front of his apartment building, beating him with a baton and using pepper spray, according to witnesses. One witness, who didn’t want to be named for fear of police reprisal, told VICE News that police used a billy club and their fists on Abdi, who “sounded like he was begging for his life.”
Family members, who saw the violent arrest through the glass doors of the building lobby, told the CBC that police ignored their warnings that Abdi had a mental illness.
The cops continued to strike him after he was on the ground, according to the witness, who saw one officer punching the man repeatedly.
“He was screaming and his feet were dangling and then at some point the feet stopped dangling and he wasn’t screaming anymore.”
“He was screaming and his feet were dangling and then at some point the feet stopped dangling and he wasn’t screaming anymore,” said the witness.
Several videos shot by witnesses and bystanders have been made public, but none show the events leading up to Abdi being on the ground.
In one video, which starts with Abdi already face down and handcuffed on the pavement, almost 10 minutes pass before paramedics get to the scene, and police start performing CPR on him.
Paramedics told the Citizen they arrived 5 minutes and 24 seconds after police requested medical assistance — contrary to Chief Charles Bordeleau’s claim that police called for paramedics 23 seconds after Abdi fell to the ground.
Abdi’s death has prompted calls for SIU reports, traditionally kept under wraps, to be released to the public.