Ottawa

Evidence wraps in officer's manslaughter trial

Const. Daniel Montsion has pleaded not guilty to manslaughter, aggravated assault and assault with a weapon in the July 2016 death of Abdirahman Abdi. Testimony has ended, but some key questions remain before the judge renders his decision.

Warning: This story contains graphic descriptions and video of violence some may find disturbing

Abdirahman Abdi lost vital signs during his arrest outside his Hintonburg apartment building on July 24, 2016. He was officially declared dead the next day. (Court exhibit)

After more than 70 days and 21 witnesses, the court has now heard all the evidence in the manslaughter trial of Ottawa police Const. Daniel Montsion.

Montsion was the second officer at the scene of the violent arrest of Abdirahman Abdi outside Abdi's Hintonburg apartment building on July 24, 2016. During the arrest, Abdi was punched several times in the head before going into cardiac arrest. He was officially declared dead the next day.

Montsion has pleaded not guilty to manslaughter, aggravated assault and assault with a weapon.

In the new year, the court will grapple with two key questions: did Montsion use excessive force during the arrest, and did that force cause Abdi's death? But there are other lingering questions, too.

What did Montsion know?

Const. Dave Weir was the first officer to respond to calls about a disturbance at a Wellington Street W. Bridgehead. Weir attempted to arrest Abdi, who fled toward his home at 55 Hilda St. That's where Montsion entered the picture.

In his opening statement back in February, Crown attorney Philip Perlmutter said Montsion arrived at the building's front door and immediately started pummeling Abdi.

Audio recordings of the dispatch messages radioed to officers during the arrest suggest Montsion may have known that prior attempts to arrest Abdi had failed.

Can we trust what we see?

Initially, the Crown pointed to a surveillance video of the arrest as proof Montsion didn't pause before delivering the blows. 

The video also shows Weir hitting Abdi several times before Montsion arrived. Both officers then pushed Abdi to the ground.

Montsion then appears to punch Abdi in the legs and head before the officers get him into handcuffs. Abdi loses consciousness several minutes later.

A longer version of the video secured as digital evidence in the trial of Const. Daniel Montsion. It appears to show Abdirahman Abdi being kicked and punched by police officers in front of the apartment building at 55 Hilda St. 5:51

While the video is the most compelling piece of evidence in the trial, it's also the most contentious.  

Montsion's lawyers initially wanted the video thrown out after their expert witness confirmed it was riddled with technical issues. Instead, they will now argue the judge should place no weight on the speed of the video when determining the force it depicts.

Did Montsion injure Abdi?

Paramedics testified that Abdi lost vital signs while in handcuffs on the ground, which was covered in blood.

Abdi had bruises all over his body and several broken bones in his face, according to pathologist Christopher Milroy.

But questions remain about whether Montsion caused Abdi's serious injuries or ensuing heart attack.

The blood spatter at the scene shows Abdi likely didn't start bleeding until he was already on the ground, said expert Pat Laternus.

A CT scan showed Abdi's nose had a "deviation" to the left, which means the force would have come from the right, Montsion's lawyer Michael Edelson argued. Montsion was on Abdi's left, he said.

The defence has suggested it wasn't Montsion's punches that broke Abdi's nose, but Weir pushing him to the ground. 

As for Abdi's heart attack, it was likely caused by the fear, pain and adrenaline he experienced during the arrest, according to Milroy. He called it "homicide by heart attack."

Const. Daniel Montsion, right, is on trial for manslaughter, aggravated assault and assault with a weapon in the 2016 death of 37-year-old Abdirahman Abdi, left. (Supplied)

But Milroy also testified it would be difficult to separate the effects of baton blows and pepper spray delivered by Weir from the punches delivered by Montsion. 

Abdi was also suffering from an undiagnosed heart condition at the time, his autopsy showed.

Are Montsion's gloves weapons?

Early in the trial, the Crown entered Montsion's blood-stained gloves as evidence. 

The Oakley assault gloves feature reinforced knuckles and are central to the weapon charge related to Abdi's arrest.

The gloves Const. Daniel Montsion wore during Abdirahman Abdi's became a key piece of evidence in the trial. (Court exhibit)

The lawyers agree the gloves were purchased by Montsion's supervisor, Sgt. Sandra Sparling, using her OPS credit card.

Judging by the fact that she purchased 11 pairs of the gloves at the time, Montsion was not the only officer wearing them.

Receipts for the gloves, which were purchased by Montsion's supervisor, were also entered into evidence. (Court exhibit)

The gloves aren't approved as weapons for police in Ontario, former Toronto deputy police chief Michael Federico told the court. But the defence argues that's because they're not weapons at all: they're clothing intended to protect the officer's hands.

Now, Justice Robert Kelly must determine whether the gloves are weapons or not.

Was Abdi suffering from excited delirium?

The defence's main theory suggests Abdi was in a state of mental and physical agitation before Montsion arrived. It's known as "excited delirium."

The controversial condition refers to a group of symptoms associated with extreme mental and physiological excitement, but is not recognized as a syndrome in the medical community, according to the International Journal of Law and Psychiatry.

Const. Dave Weir arrives at the Ottawa courthouse on June 20, 2019, to testify in the Montsion's manslaughter trial. (CBC)

Weir testified that Abdi showed signs of erratic and combative behaviour, possessed apparent superhuman strength, ignored commands and sweated profusely — all supposed symptoms of excited delirium.

The court also heard that people who experience excited delirium are less likely to survive encounters with police. 

Final arguments in 2020

The lawyers will not present their final arguments in court until April 27, 2020, though they will submit their written arguments before that date. 

Kelly said the Crown will likely ask him to answer several of these questions based on the evidence before he settles on his final verdict.

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