An Ottawa police officer charged in the death of a Black man acted according to his training and the information available to him at the time during the confrontation four years ago, his lawyers argued Monday.
Lawyers representing Const. Daniel Montsion told the court over video conference that their client had no choice but to “engage” with Abdirahman Abdi after being called to assist another officer on July 24, 2016.
By the time he arrived at the scene, Montsion had already heard from a police dispatcher that Abdi was violent and that he had groped women outside an Ottawa coffee shop, defence lawyer Solomon Friedman said in his closing submissions.
The officer also heard Abdi had fled and had been pepper sprayed with no effect, the lawyer said.
As Montsion approached, he saw the other officer kick Abdi and strike him with a baton, with Abdi blocking some of the blows, Friedman said. Abdi then turned toward Montsion and, at one point, reached towards his shoulder, the lawyer said.
“There’s no question (Montsion) is presented with a situation he has to react to,” Friedman said.
“This is not a case where de-escalation plays a role. Const. Montsion had a duty to act, and he acted,” he said.
Montsion is charged with manslaughter, aggravated assault and assault with a weapon in Abdi’s death. He was one of two officers involved in the altercation.
Prosecutors allege he used more force than was reasonable as he assisted in arresting Abdi. They allege a series of punches to the head delivered shortly after Montsion arrived were a significant factor in Abdi’s death.
The incident took place shortly after police were called to a coffee shop in response to reports of a man causing a disturbance.
Police then caught up to Abdi a few blocks away outside his apartment building. Cellphone videos that emerged at the time showed the man lying on his stomach, handcuffed, while two constables held him down.
Abdi, a 37-year-old Somali-Canadian man, lost vital signs during the incident and died in hospital the next day. His death sparked several protests in Ottawa, as well as in Toronto and Montreal.
During Monday’s virtual hearing, Friedman showed security footage of Montsion’s arrival at the scene, arguing it shows Abdi was not merely “passively resisting,” as he said prosecutors suggested.
At one point, Abdi and Montsion are largely hidden from view, and the officer appears to strike out at the other man.
Friedman said his client was attempting to deliver “a series of distractionary blows to the face” but added it’s unclear from the video if they landed and with what force.
That, the lawyer argued, was one of several reasonable options for the officer given the information he had.
“Const. Montsion chose the calibrated use of force that was required to subdue Mr. Abdi,” he said.
The defence is expected to continue its submissions Tuesday, followed by the Crown. The hearing was initially scheduled for April but was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on July 20, 2020.
Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press