Ottawa police Const. Daniel Montsion has been found not guilty of manslaughter, aggravated assault and assault with a weapon in connection with the 2016 death of Abdirahman Abdi.
Justice Robert Kelly said Tuesday the Crown did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Montsion’s actions caused Abdi’s death.
Kelly also said he was not convinced that Montsion used force that was a substantial departure from what a reasonable police officer would do, or that it went beyond what’s justified in the Criminal Code.
The Ontario Court of Justice trial began in 2019 after the officer had waived his Jordan rights to a more timely trial. It lasted more than 70 days at the Ottawa Courthouse and was also delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kelly heard from 21 witnesses and received submissions of video evidence of the final moments of Abdi’s confrontation with police on the front steps of his Hintonburg apartment building, just west of downtown Ottawa.
Montsion had been called to the scene as backup when another officer, Const. Dave Weir, attempted to arrest Abdi at a nearby coffee shop after reports he was assaulting women.
Abdi ran away and Weir pursued him down the street, using pepper spray and striking him with his baton.
Montsion arrived at the scene and, in the ensuing melee, punched Abdi several times in the head while wearing reinforced or “plated” gloves.
Arguments over force, cause of death
The Crown’s lawyers argued Montsion used excessive force and showed “wanton or reckless disregard” for Abdi’s life and safety because he began to punch him moments after arriving on the scene.
They said the punches delivered by Montsion broke bones in Abdi’s face, caused severe brain damage and were a significant factor in his death.
The defence raised questions about whether the blows Abdi sustained to his head caused his death, which was described as “homicide by heart attack.”
Dr. Christopher Milroy, Ottawa’s chief pathologist, acknowledged during cross-examination by the defence that it would be difficult to separate the effects of Const. David Weir’s baton blows and pepper spray from the effects of Montsion’s punches.
Weir, the other police officer, testified he felt Abdi possessed “superhuman strength” during the interaction. He credited Montsion with “saving his life.”
However, the Crown called that testimony “embellished and exaggerated,” raising instead the testimony of other witnesses and surveillance video.
The Crown did concede that Abdi’s behaviour prior to his arrest was “assaultive” and he wasn’t taking the medication prescribed to him for a mental health issue.
While they said that justified his arrest, they argued Abdi wasn’t malicious, violent or dangerous that day.
Disagreements on video and gloves
The defence argued the video showing Montsion arriving at the scene should be thrown out after an expert witness said it was riddled with technical issues.
They eventually dropped that effort, ultimately arguing the judge should place no weight on the speed of the video in evaluating the force the police used.
The assault with a weapon charge comes down to the reinforced gloves Montsion was wearing.
The Crown argued that the gloves were a “weapon of opportunity,” not designed as weapons but used as such.
The defence contended the gloves were a protective part of Montsion’s uniform. The Crown also conceded they were purchased by Montsion’s supervisor.
Abdi’s death has drawn national attention and led to the formation of the Justice for Abdirahman coalition, which has pushed for changes to the policing and justice systems in Ottawa and Ontario.