An Ottawa police officer who punched a Somali-Canadian in the head to help subdue him during an arrest was found not guilty on Tuesday in the man’s death.
The violent arrest in 2016 of Abdirahman Abdi, 37, who suffered a mental illness, sparked protests over police brutality and racism.
A police watchdog’s investigation eventually led to assault and manslaughter charges against Constable Daniel Montsion. In his ruling, Justice Robert Kelly said prosecutors failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Montsion’s actions caused Abdi’s death.
He also said the force used by officers involved in the arrest was not excessive. Montsion had been called as back up for another officer who’d responded to reports of women being assaulted at a coffee shop and tried to arrest Abdi, who fled.
Abdi was pursued down the street to the steps of his apartment building in Ottawa’s Hintonburg neighborhood, struck with a baton and pepper-sprayed. When Montsion arrived on the scene, a melee ensued and he punched Abdi several times with plated gloves.
Prosecutors accused the constable of “wanton and reckless disregard" for Abdi’s safety, breaking his nose and causing brain injury, while the defense cast doubts about whether the blows actually caused his death. The official cause of death, according to the coroner, was a lack of oxygen to the brain caused by a heart attack. The court also heard that Abdi had underlying heart issues.
Abdi moved to Canada from Somalia in 2009. “The family is devastated by the decision," lawyer Lawrence Greenspon, who is representing Abdi’s family in a civil lawsuit, told reporters outside the courthouse.
“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," he said.