Ottawa

Abdi's mental struggles obvious, witness tells officer's manslaughter trial

Abdirahman Abdi was clearly "not in control of his mental health" shortly before the violent arrest that preceded his death, according to a witness who testified Wednesday at the manslaughter trial of Ottawa police Const. Daniel Montsion.

Encounter at community centre came 20 minutes before violent arrest

Abdirahman Abdi lost vital signs during a violent police arrest on July 24, 2016, at the entrance to his Hintonburg apartment building. He was officially declared dead the next day. (Abdi family)

Abdirahman Abdi was clearly "not in control of his mental health" shortly before the violent arrest that preceded his death, according to a witness who testified Wednesday at the manslaughter trial of Ottawa police Const. Daniel Montsion.

Abdi showed up at the Hintonburg Community Centre at 9:20 a.m. on July 24, 2016, just as Caolan Cullum was unlocking the doors to open for the day.

Cullum had never met Abdi before, but noticed the man's mouth was hanging open and he had a blank stare.

Cullum testified Abdi was standing very close to him, but said that wasn't unusual because he regularly encountered people with mental health challenges while working at the centre.

"It was clear to me he was not in control of his mental health by his blank state and his demeanour," Cullum wrote in an incident report days later, after realizing what had happened to Abdi just 20 minutes after the encounter.

A still image from a surveillance video of Abdi's arrest, captured by a camera in the lobby of his building at 55 Hilda St. (Ontario Criminal Court)

Hard to understand

Cullum said Abdi followed him into the community centre, but he couldn't understand what the man was saying. 

"It sounded like he was making mouth sounds," Cullum testified. He said he could only understand the words "government," "corruption" and "sexuality." He also heard him name "Paris" and "Germany," and say the phrase "stand with your brothers."

Defence lawyer Michael Edelson asked Cullum if the terrorist attacks in Paris and Germany in 2016 came to mind at the time, and Cullum said yes.

Abdi seemed frustrated that Cullum couldn't understand him, but in a gesture that Cullum took as a peace offering, kept trying to shake hands.

Eventually, Abdi left peacefully. During the Crown's examination, Cullum said Abdi never appeared violent or aggressive. 

Michael Edelson, left, and Solomon Friedman are representing Const. Daniel Montsion. (Robyn Miller/CBC)

Legal wrangling

Cullum is the first non-expert witness to appear at Montsion's manslaughter trial.

After his testimony, however, the proceedings came to another screeching halt when the Crown and defence couldn't agree on what should happen next.

The Crown wants to get on with authenticating the original surveillance video from 55 Hilda St., a centrepiece of the its case. The original video was never secured as digital evidence by the Special Investigations Unit. 

The Crown hoped to call the witness who transferred the video to a thumb drive for investigators, but Montsion's lawyers argued they only heard about the existence of that witness a few weeks ago, and only received a new piece of video evidence Tuesday night.

The defence can't be expected to fly by the seat of its pants.- Defence counsel Solomon Friedman

"The defence can't be expected to fly by the seat of its pants," defence counsel Solomon Friedman said. 

They're asking to move on to witnesses unrelated to the video or the events it depicts. Each side is now accusing the other of holding up the trial.

"This can't continue forever," Crown counsel Roger Shallow observed.

"I'm very frustrated at the rate this trial is moving forward, at the way the Crown is proceeding," Edelson said. 

Justice Robert Kelly said he will hear more from the lawyers tomorrow, but agreed the video should be set aside for now.

Montsion has pleaded not guilty to manslaughter, aggravated assault and assault with a weapon in Abdi's death.