Ottawa

Officers taunted, videotaped in wake of Abdirahman Abdi's death, says police chief

Ottawa Police Chief Charles Bordeleau says his officers have been taunted and videotaped since the arrest and death of Abdirahman Abdi, and he is urging residents to "take a step back" as the force works to rebuild their relationship with the city's Somali-Canadian community.

Ottawa man died after what witnesses described as a violent arrest

Ottawa police Chief Charles Bordeleau says his officers have been taunted and videotaped since the arrest and death of 37-year-old Abdirahman Abdi. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Ottawa's police chief says his officers have been taunted and videotaped since the arrest and death of Abdirahman Abdi, and he is urging residents to "take a step back" as the force works to rebuild their relationship with the city's Somali-Canadian community.

Charles Bordeleau told Ottawa Morning guest host Hallie Cotnam that there had been "a number of incidents" involving officers and members of the public since Abdi's fatal July 24 encounter with police in the city's Hintonburg neighbourhood.

"People are reacting right now, but I think we need to take a step back. And I know that the broad community, that's not what we want here in Ottawa," Bordeleau said on Friday.

"We have clearly demonstrated before that we can work together in times of crisis, in times of tragic incidents. And I'm reassured by the conversations that I've had with other community leaders that that can happen, and that will happen. They have my commitment to ensure that that takes place."

Abdirahman Abdi, 37, died after an incident involving Ottawa police on Sunday. The province's Special Investigations Unit is investigating. (Supplied photo)

Bordeleau's comments come five days after the morning of July 24, when police were called to the Bridgehead coffee shop on the corner of Wellington Street West and Fairmont Avenue after receiving reports that a man had groped a woman inside.

A witness told CBC News that patrons tried to restrain Abdi outside the coffee shop before police arrived. Officers then followed Abdi on foot to his apartment on nearby Hilda Street, where he was arrested.

Witnesses said one officer beat Abdi with a baton and another punched him in the head as people watched from the street and from apartment balconies above. He was also pepper sprayed.

Abdi had no vital signs when paramedics arrived on the scene. First responders performed CPR, and Abdi was taken to hospital in critical condition, where he was later pronounced dead.

The province's Special Investigations Unit, or SIU, has now taken over the investigation. 

Officers taking heat since arrest

In one specific encounter following Abdi's death, some 20 to 30 people showed up to film and taunt Ottawa police officers who were responding to a report of a collision, Bordeleau told Ottawa Morning.

"[The officers] are holding their heads up and taking the high road. They're not getting engaged in that," Bordeleau said.

"Frankly, that is not what our community needs right now."

Bordeleau acknowledged, however, that the confrontations are evidence there's been a shift in how his officers are being perceived in Ottawa since Abdi's death. 

"This is a tragic incident, and it's involving members of the police service. It's impacting the Abdi family. And it's impacting the greater community. And we appreciate that, we understand that," he said.

"I know that they want answers, and that's why the SIU has been called in. It's important to allow that process to take place."

Bordeleau said that community discussions about how police use force could certainly take place while the SIU carries out its investigation, although there could be "frustration" over limitations on what he can say about the events of July 24.

Not attending funeral

Abdi's funeral is set to be held Friday afternoon at the Ottawa Mosque. A family spokesperson has told CBC News that three levels of government, including Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, will be in attendance.

Bordeleau said Friday that after "a lot of consideration" he decided he would not go.

"I've publicly expressed my condolences for the family. And one community leader, tomorrow, will be delivering those condolences personally," Bordeleau said.

Bordeleau said he — along with members of the Ottawa Police Service and Eli El-Chantiry, the chair of the city's police board — also met with members of the Ottawa Mosque earlier this week and had a "very productive discussion."

He also bluntly denied that Abdi's arrest would have happened differently were he a white man.

"I have seen no evidence to support that claim, with the information that I have," said Bordeleau.