By Salma Mahgoub and Matt Cicero
As the trial begins for a police officer charged in the death of an Ottawa man, the victim’s family and supporters are eager to finally get answers.
The 12-week criminal trial began on Feb. 4 for Const. Daniel Montsion, who faces multiple charges in relation to the death of 37-year-old Abdirahman Abdi.
An investigation by the provincial police watchdog found that Abdi lost vital signs after a violent confrontation with police on July 24, 2016. The Somali-Canadian with mental health issues died the next day in hospital.
Const. Montsion arrived and punched Abdi repeatedly in the face wearing “reinforced knuckle-plated gloves,” the prosecutor said.
“It’s important for all those involved to have a sense of closure and accountability for what happened,” said Farhia Ahmed, chair of the Justice for Abdirahman Coalition.
The coalition, which promotes transparency and accountability in law enforcement, organized a candlelight vigil ahead of the trial to show support for Abdi’s family.
Nearly 100 people gathered on Feb. 1 just outside the front steps of Abdi’s apartment in Hintonburg, where police chased him down during an arrest.
“We have seen this community stand up and support us in a way that, regardless of what the (trial) outcome is, we have a lot of faith in our community to be able to get through very difficult times like this,” said Ahmed.
On the first day of the trial, Montsion pleaded not guilty to charges of aggravated assault, assault with a weapon and manslaughter.
Crown attorney Philip Perlmutter made his opening remarks and began questioning the first witness, a member of the Special Investigations Unit.
According to Perlmutter, Ottawa police responded to a call at a Bridgehead café on Wellington Street in the morning of July 24. Ottawa police officer Dave Weir arrested Abdi, but Abdi ran to his home at 55 Hilda St before Weir could secure him.
Security camera footage showed Weir and Abdi in front the Hilda St. apartment, as Abdi refused to lie down as the officer ordered.
At this point, Montsion arrived and punched Abdi repeatedly in the face wearing “reinforced knuckle-plated gloves,” the prosecutor said. The two officers then pulled Abdi to the ground and Montsion proceeded to strike Abdi in the head and knees.
Among the speakers at the vigil was Abdi’s brother, who will also appear as a witness in the trial. Through a translator, Jama Abdi expressed his gratitude for everyone who came and reminded them that this trial is not only about Abdi but about the entire community.
Kitchissippi councillor Jeff Leiper also attended the vigil and took the opportunity to mark the death of another Ottawa man shot dead by police just one day earlier. The victim was identified as Guy Ritchie, a 30-year-old Indigenous man with mental health issues.
“No matter what the verdict is in the trial that we are gathered here to recognize, our city is going to continue to be challenged to act on issues of race, mental health and policing,” said Leiper. “My hope is that the trial will see justice prevail and truth triumph.”
The criminal trial is scheduled to run until May.