The killing of Abdirahman Abdi, a 37-year old Somali Canadian man, by Ottawa Police Constable Daniel Montsion on July 24, 2016, was a particularly vicious and brutal affair which sparked community outrage and a community movement for “Justice for Abdirahman.” Montsion repeatedly delivered heavy baton blows to the defenseless man. On Monday March 6, 2017 Ontario’s police oversight agency, the SIU (Special Investigations Unit) brought three charges against Constable Montsion: manslaughter, aggravated assault, and assault with a weapon. Laying of charges against police officers who kill civilians is a too rare outcome in Canada.
The lethal beating of Abdi, a man struggling with mental health issues, while neighbors called out for the officers to stop was partially caught on video. Neighbors looked out for Abdi who was well known in the community and informed officers of his mental health issues and likely fear and lack of understanding of police commands. They implored officers to back off the frightened man but the assault with baton persisted. Abdi was pronounced dead in hospital the following day but family members say hospital officials told them the man was dead forty-five minutes before he arrived at the hospital.
Constable Montsion is a member of the Ottawa police direct action response team (DART) which targets gang but was assisting on patrol when he killed Abdi. Montsion has been on desk duty throughout the investigation and is now scheduled to appear at the Ontario court of justice in Ottawa on March 29. A second officer, Constable Dave Weir was involved in the assault on Abdi but the SIU concluded he was only a witness officer.
As reported previously by killercopscanada Constable Montsion was policing a neighborhood of Somali migrants despite having a history of violence against Somali-Canadians. By his own admission he had “panicked” when faced with a suspect of Somali background in a case that might also have included the planting of evidence by police.
The police assault on Abdi began with a 911 call from a Bridgehead coffee shop in Abdi’s neighborhood in Ottawa. What happened there is still unclear but owner Tracey Clark says Abdi had made some customers feel uncomfortable or harassed. In her words:
“He would stand and stare at customers, or get a little bit too close, and we were beginning to hear from customers that it was making them feel uncomfortable. And so we had started to have those conversations where, ‘Are you aware of this behaviour, could we ask you not to do that?’ So there were some interventions like that that had taken place.” (quoted in Nease and Pritchard 2017)
After leaving the coffee shop Abdi apparently attempted to return to his apartment three blocks away. On the way he was intercepted by police. One witness, Ross McGhie reports that Abdi appeared fearful of receiving baton blows from the officer who clearly held a baton, and as a result picked up a piece of foam from the street (Nease and Pritchard 2017). He held it over his head in a defensive, not offensive, posture.
At some point, at the corner of Wellington and Hilda streets near Abdi’s apartment, the first officer tried to grab Abdi who dropped the foam and tried to run to his apartment building on Hilda Street. The officer prevented this by striking Abdi a few times on his legs, arms and upper body according to the witness Ross McGhie (Rease and Pritchard 2017). The officer also shouted at the stricken man.
At that point a second officer, said to be Constable Montsion, arrived on scene in a cruiser. He apparently moved very quickly and aggressively against the victim. In the words of McGhie: “The officer emerged from that car very rapidly … pulled up right in front of the building … immediately jumped into the altercation and administered a number of very heavy blows to the head and face and neck of Mr. Abdi” (quoted in Nease and Pritchard 2017).
Family lawyer Lawrence Greenspon noted that family members had to endure much during the lengthy SIU investigation. In his words:
“It’s been extremely difficult. You not only have the incredible grief that we really can’t understand unless we go through it ourselves, and I don’t wish that on anybody. You have this grief of losing a son, brother, and it’s magnified … the public light has been shining on this death, this tragedy, for eight months now.” (quoted in Nease and Pritchard 20017)
Greenspon said that the family would likely be pursuing a civil lawsuit as well.
The SIU report is with Ontario’s attorney general, at present Ottawa Centre Member of Provincial Parliament Yasir Naqvi but it is not clear if Naqvi will make the report public or not. This has been a case of great public interest and concern. More than is often the case in situations involving police killings of civilians in Canada.
The police killing of Abdirahman Abdi was the focus of important public mobilizations and campaigns, including mobilizations of “Black Lives Matter.” Large demonstrations calling for “Justice for Abdirahman” were held in Ottawa, Montreal, and Toronto. #justiceforabdirahman gained much attention on social media.
Nease, Kristy and Trevor Pritchard. 2017. “Ottawa Police Officer Charged with Manslaughter in Man’s 2016 Death.” CBC News. March 6. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/abdirahman-abdi-ottawa-police-siu-findings-1.4008142
killercopscanada, 2016. “Constable Montsion’s Somali-Canadian Prroblem: The Killing of Abdirahman Abdi.” killercopscanada. September 9. https://killercopscanada.wordpress.com/category/justiceforabdirahman/