Ottawa

The unreleased video: Woman who watched fatal arrest of Abdirahman Abdi speaks out

Only a small group of people have seen the soundless security camera footage of Abdirahman Abdi's fatal confrontation with Ottawa police officers. One of them is now speaking out.

'The video is real, it's not a television show. Someone's life ends'

Heather Badenoch is one of the few people who have seen a surveillance video of Abdirahman Abdi's fatal arrest in July 2016. (CBC News)

A black surveillance camera the size of a fist, tucked into a top corner of the lobby at 55 Hilda St., captured the fatal arrest of 37-year-old Abdirahman Abdi at the doorstep of his home in July 2016.

In addition to the confrontation with two Ottawa police officers, the soundless footage depicts the grief of family members who were prevented from rushing through the front door to help Abdi.

The video has not been released publicly and so far only the Special Investigations Unit, the family, their lawyer and settlement workers who work with immigrants have seen the footage.

Ottawa police Const. Daniel Montsion is facing charges of manslaughter, aggravated assault and assault with a weapon in Abdi's death. (Still from YouTube video)

Heather Badenoch is among that last group.

"The video is incredibly violent. You can't unsee someone's death and his mother's distress," she said of Abdi's final moments, captured by the camera.

Badenoch is a communications consultant who watched the video more than seven months ago with a handful of staff members from the Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization as they prepared their community response to Abdi's death. OCISO's non-profit housing arm operates the apartment building where Abdi lived. 

She's speaking out about what she saw to counter the Ottawa Police Association's (OPA) assertion that the SIU only laid charges because of public pressure.

Police union head calls SIU charges 'politicized'

In an interview with CBC News after the charges were laid, OPA president Matt Skof expressed skepticism about why Const. Daniel Montsion is accused of criminal wrongdoing. The 36-year-old Ottawa police constable is charged with manslaughter, aggravated assault and assault with a weapon. 

Ottawa Police Association president Matt Skof has suggested the charges laid against Montsion by the SIU were politically motivated. (CBC)

"We expected [charges] to occur given the amount of attention garnered by this incident," said Skof, who has not seen the CCTV footage.

Protests across the country were organized after Abdi's death, and Skof criticized community groups who argued race was a possible factor.

"Our experience with the SIU has been unfortunately politicized and paralyzing the profession of police outside the mandate of what's provided to us by the public and the government," Skof said.

'We never see Abdi move again'

But after viewing the video, Badenoch believes the charges against Montsion were warranted.

"From what I've seen, the level of violence we saw had to lead to charges," she said.

According to Badenoch, the video shows Abdi running to the entrance of the building and trying to get in. Two officers pull him away from the glass doors and force him down to the ground. Abdi doesn't have a weapon and isn't resisting, Badenoch said. Both officers hit Abdi with batons, and one punched him. 

Heather Badenoch is part of a small group of people who have seen unreleased surveillance video footage of Abdirahman Abdi's fatal confrontation with Ottawa police. 1:06

"When Abdi is lying on the ground, face down and still, the constable who has been charged punches him in the head very violently, twice, and we never see Abdi move again," she said.

The video also shows a group of people gathered in the lobby, barred by police from going outside to help Abdi.  

"One of those people was Abdi's mother," said Badenoch. "You don't need sound to recognize the distress in her body language, her face, the way she's holding herself ... No one is helping her son."

Footage 'triggering and inflammatory'

Although Badenoch said the video would, in her opinion, put to rest any doubts about the SIU charge, she doesn't want it out in the open because it could be "triggering and inflammatory."

"The video is real, it's not a television show. Someone's life ends."​

Lawrence Greenspon, the family's lawyer, said Abdi's parents don't want the video released. It's a decision the Justice for Abdirahman Coalition supports.

William Felepchuk, a spokesperson for the Justice for Abdirahman Coalition, is criticizing the Ottawa Police Association president for calling the charges politically motivated. 0:51

The coalition is also criticizing Skof's comments that the charges against Montsion were politically motivated.

"We find it ironic that someone who is so intimately involved in the administration of law and justice has so little faith in the legal institutions," said coalition spokesperson William Felepchuk.

"So many people after Abdirahman Abdi's death said, 'Wait for the investigation, wait for the SIU report to come out.' Now that it has come out, there's people saying it's not a criminal issue, it's a political issue, and we find that very ironic."​

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About the Author

Judy Trinh

CBC Reporter

Judy Trinh is a veteran journalist with the CBC. She covers a diverse range of stories from breaking crime news to the #MeToo movement to human rights court challenges. Judy aims to be both critical and compassionate in her reporting. Follow her on Twitter @judytrinhCBC Email: Judy.Trinh@cbc.ca