The Canadian officer who beat a Black man with knuckle-plated gloves during a 2016 arrest was found not guilty on Tuesday, Oct. 20. Abdirahman Abdi, 37, later died.
The long-awaited verdict was delivered on Tuesday during a Zoom call. Justice Robert Kelly said prosecutors did not provide proof beyond reasonable doubt that Ottawa police constable Daniel Montsion’s actions caused Abdi’s death.
Abdi, a Somali-Canadian died the day after police responded to a report of a disturbance at an Ottawa coffee shop.
Owner Tracey Clark told CBC News that her employees said Abdi was harassing and assaulting multiple customers. Customers removed Abdi from the store and restrained him in front of the building while waiting for police to arrive.
Police pursued Abdi on foot and beat him with a knuckle-plated glove, a baton and a billy club outside of his apartment building. Bystanders said that Abdi was “begging for his life” as he was beaten.
Abdi’s family members who witnessed the beating said police ignored their warnings that he struggled with a mental illness.
Witnesses also said police continued to beat Abdi after he was on the ground. “He was screaming and his feet were dangling and then at some point the feet stopped dangling and he wasn’t screaming anymore,” a witness said.
Footage shows Abdi lying face down in a pool of blood for 10 minutes before paramedics arrived and life-saving measures were performed. He died in the hospital of brain hypoxia. Prosecutors said Montsion’s punches to Abdi’s face broke bones and caused brain damage, which contributed to his death.
Montison was charged with manslaughter, aggravated assault and assault with a weapon.
Justice Kelly said on Tuesday that he was not certain Montsion’s use of force was far beyond what would be acceptable for an officer to do according to the criminal code.
Montsion arrived at the scene in response to a call for backup. Kelly said Ottawa’s chief pathologist could not confirm that Montsion’s punches caused Abdi’s nasal fractures and that it was possible that the initial officer, Dave Weir, inflicted the damage when tackling Abdi to the ground. Weir beat Abdi with a baton. The pathologist said it would not be possible to determine if Abdi’s facial injuries were caused by the plated gloves or the baton.
Abdi went into cardiac arrest during the encounter, and Kelly said it may have been triggered by exertion during the assaults in the coffee shop and the pursuit.
The family is being represented by attorney Lawrence Greenspon, and has filed a $1.5 million lawsuit against the Ottawa Police Services Board, former Ottawa police chief Charles Bordeleau, as well as Montsion and Weir.
Prosecutors said Abdi had not been taking medication for his mental health condition. His family is “devastated” by Montsion’s acquittal, according to the attorney.
“Abdirahman Abdi came from a country of civil war. He came to this country seeking freedom and safety. Before July 26, 2016, he had never had a scratch on his body, Greenspon said.
Montsion’s lawyers said they anticipate he will return to work after four years of litigation.