Ottawa constable found not guilty in death during violent arrest

Cop not guilty in death

An Ottawa police officer has been cleared in the death of a man who suffered a fatal heart attack during a violent arrest four years ago.

Ontario Court Justice Robert Kelly delivered his verdict in the case of Const. Daniel Montsion in an Ottawa courtroom Tuesday morning in a hearing that was also livestreamed.

Montsion had pleaded not guilty to manslaughter, aggravated assault and assault with a weapon in the death of Abdirahman Abdi.

Prosecutors alleged the punches Montsion delivered on July 24, 2016, while wearing reinforced gloves, caused facial injuries that precipitated Abdi's death.

In reading part of his ruling, Kelly said the Crown had not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Montsion caused Abdi's facial injuries or his death.

The judge said he was also left with reasonable doubt as to whether Montsion used excessive force, or whether he acted with a wanton disregard for Abdi's life or safety, which would be required to find the officer criminally negligent.

Kelly said he did not ignore the Crown's submissions that when Montsion arrived as the second officer at the scene, Abdi was not armed nor was he actively assaulting the other officer.

Abdi also did not strike the two officers after he was brought to the ground, "although he was struggling hard for some time and with some success against the force of two trained police officers," the judge said.

"This is a close call," he said.

"In the end, my assessment of the evidence as a whole ... leaves me in a state of reasonable doubt about whether the standing blows and the blows on the ground exceeded the bounds of reasonable police force response in the totality of the circumstances."

Prosecutors had argued Montsion's use of force was unjustified and that there were many other actions he could have taken instead.

Defence lawyers, meanwhile, said the constable had no choice but to engage with Abdi and that the punches were intended as "distractionary'' blows to facilitate his arrest.

They further argued the injuries Abdi suffered during the arrest did not cause or directly contribute to his death, suggesting he may have hit a "point of no return" with regards to a heart condition he had before Montsion became involved.

Court has heard Abdi suffered a fatal heart attack during the confrontation, and that he had a pre-existing heart condition that was exacerbated by the physical strain and emotional stress he experienced that day.

The defence has also argued the gloves Montsion wore, which had knuckles reinforced with plastic, shouldn't be considered a weapon because they were provided by his supervisor and part of his uniform.

Kelly said Tuesday that in light of his verdict, he did not have to rule on whether the reinforced gloves constitute weapons.

During the trial, which was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, court heard the incident took place shortly after police were called to an Ottawa coffee shop in response to reports of a man causing a disturbance.

Abdi was kicked out of the coffee shop and was acting violently and groping women when the first officer, Const. Dave Weir, arrived, court heard.

The 37-year-old was pepper sprayed and ran away, but Weir caught up with him outside his apartment building, court heard. Montsion arrived shortly afterwards after hearing about the situation from a police dispatcher.

Court has seen security footage of the confrontation, but Abdi and Montsion are largely hidden from view as the officer appears to be swinging at the other man. The Crown and the defence have given significantly different accounts of those blows and their effect.

Abdi is then brought to the ground, face forward, the footage shows.

He lost vital signs during the confrontation and died in hospital the next day. Court has heard he suffered significant facial injuries, including a broken nose.

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