His death sparked protests and vigils across the country.
Now, more than seven months after Abdirahman Abdi, 37, died following a violent arrest on the steps of his Hintonburg apartment building, a rare charge of manslaughter is to be laid against an Ottawa police officer.
The Special Investigations Unit, the civilian police oversight agency, said Monday that they believe an Ottawa police officer executing Abdi’s arrest on the morning of July 24, 2016, assaulted him and then killed him.
Const. Daniel Montsion, 36, faces charges of manslaughter, aggravated assault and assault with a weapon after the fatal encounter. He is now suspended with pay from the police force.
The death of Abdi — a Somali-Canadian man described by his family as someone with mental health issues — sent shockwaves throughout the city and beyond as many viewed unsettling video footage taken by witnesses and bystanders. The videos don’t show the physical confrontation that led to Abdi being grounded in front of his Hilda Street apartment building.
But they show the aftermath. The videos show police officers standing and crouching over Abdi’s prone, bloody body and, some time later, administering CPR.
The SIU said Abdi was in a state of “medical distress” before he was transported to hospital. His cause of death has not been released by the SIU.
And while Abdi’s grieving family — his mother and father and brother and sister — will await a verdict in what’s likely to be a long criminal case, they will not wait to pursue civil liability for Abdirahman’s death.
Abdi’s brother, Jama Abdi, told the Citizen Monday afternoon that he can’t discuss the pending charge against an officer involved in his brother’s death. He directed all inquiries to the family’s lawyer, Lawrence Greenspon.
“They have shown great strength,” Greenspon told reporters Monday afternoon. “It’s not something anyone would want to go through. They’re a very proud family and they continue to weather the storm. They have received a lot of support from family, friends and the community.”
Greenspon said the Abdi family will be seeking financial damages for loss of care, guidance and companionship, though Greenspon would not say who will ultimately be named in the lawsuit, which has yet to be filed.
Such a case would have to be started within two years of the date of Abdi’s arrest so it is likely it will be started before the criminal case is over.
Montsion is an anti-gang officer who responded to 911 calls reporting a man groping women at the Bridgehead coffee shop on Fairmont Avenue on the Sunday morning of Abdi’s arrest. By Monday afternoon, part-way through a police board meeting, Abdi was officially pronounced dead.
What happened in between the two events will now be left to the courts to decide at trial. What is clear from eyewitness accounts is that Abdi, fleeing the Bridgehead after allegedly touching women, was pepper-sprayed, beaten with a baton and punched as officers arrested him. Some pleaded with officers to stop and tried to alert them that Abdi was mentally ill.
In their investigation, the SIU had previously designated a second subject officer – Const. Dave Weir – but months ago the SIU no longer suspected him of wrongdoing and classified him as a witness officer, compelling him to be interviewed, as it continued their investigation against Montsion. Weir will not be charged by the SIU.
Abdi’s arrest and subsequent death fuelled community outrage and reignited long-standing questions about how police deal with mentally ill persons and whether, as some in the community have said, his treatment by police was racially motivated.
Ottawa police Chief Charles Bordeleau urged the community to remember that “it is important that we remain patient and respectful of the judicial process that is now underway.”
Bordeleau said Montsion, “like any member of the community going through a similar process, deserves to be treated fairly.”
Bordeleau acknowledged the difficulty of the death on Abdi’s family and “our entire community,” but said, it, too, has been difficult for those employed by the police service.
“Our members are professional and they care about this community. They respond to calls for service from the community with the goal of helping those involved,” Bordeleau said.
Bordeleau told the Citizen that the force is committed to rebuilding its relationship with the community it serves.
“The events of last year certainly tested that relationship,” he said.
But since July, both Bordeleau and community members will say that work has been done to repair a fractured relationship.
“We’ve worked hard since that event to continue rebuilding what was broken, what was damaged.”
Bordeleau said the force is listening, particularly to the Justice for Abdirahman Coalition, and other voices in affected communities. Members of the coalition did not immediately return a request for comment on the charges pending against Montsion.
“We have tragic events that take place but we work very closely together to find common solutions and to have the conversations that are needed,” Bordeleau said.
Ottawa Police Association president Matt Skof said the union isn’t surprised by the severity of the charges by the watchdog in what was a case watched across the country.
Montsion, being represented by frequent police defence lawyer Michael Edelson, had no comment to make through his union.
On Hilda Street, neighbour Amina Mohamed waited in the foyer for her son to come home from school on Monday afternoon.
“(Abdi) died here,” she said.
Everyday since, Abdi’s family has had to walk by the place he died, Mohamed said.
“When they come in the building and go out, they remember.”
Montsion is scheduled to appear in court on March 29.