Key evidence mishandled in Montsion case, defence argues

A piece of evidence at the centre of the case against Ottawa police Const. Daniel Montsion wasn't handled properly and is riddled with technical issues, court heard Thursday.

Original surveillance video wasn't properly copied or documented

Const. Daniel Montsion, centre, leaves the Ottawa courthouse alongside his legal team and Ottawa Police Association president Matt Skof, left, on Feb. 4, 2019. (Judy Trinh/CBC)

A piece of evidence at the centre of the case against Const. Daniel Montsion wasn't handled properly and is riddled with technical issues, court heard Thursday.

According to the Crown, the surveillance video shows the Ottawa police officer punching Abdirahman Abdi while wearing gloves with reinforced knuckles in front of Abdi's apartment building at 55 Hilda St. on July 24, 2016.

The video is key to the Crown's argument that Montsion used excessive force and was responsible for Abdi's death.

But Montsion's lawyer, Michael Edelson, said the video is also "critical" to Montsion's defence.

Video froze, couldn't be copied to disk

On Thursday court heard the video gave Special Investigations Unit (SIU) forensic investigator David Robinson trouble from the start.

The SIU copied tape from 16 cameras at 55 Hilda St. to a thumbdrive the day Abdi was taken to hospital, but Robinson told court they needed a special video player to watch it.

Robinson couldn't get the video to play without freezing, nor could he copy it to a DVD.

Robinson asked his manager, Frank Kavcic, for help. Step by step, Kavcic showed Robinson how to export the video as an MP4 and managed to make a two-minute version showing the violent altercation between Abdi and police.

Robinson couldn't get it to work himself.

Instead, he used screen-capture software to record 28 minutes from one of the cameras.

A memorial at the entrance to 55 Hilda St. in 2016, days after Abdirahman Abdi was arrested and later taken to hospital, where he died. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

He had no idea at the time that the video was lesser quality than the original.

After that, the USB was filed as physical evidence, and the original digital files, which should have been sent to a central registry at the SIU, were forgotten.

So was the copy Kavcic made, though it has since become a focal point of the proceedings.

Copy resurfaces 

It wasn't until Robinson was preparing for court that he remembered the video issues. He also learned for the first time about another version of the video that was shown to the pathologist.

The video has the same file number as the one Kavcic created in 2016 while giving Robinson IT advice, court heard Thursday.

This version was slowed down, according to the defence, and downplays the force used by the other officer on scene.

No version of the video has been played in court.

The defence believes the slower version changed the pathologist's opinion, and led them to deem Abdi's death the result of manslaughter.

On Thursday, defence lawyer Solomon Friedman grilled Robinson about every step he took to obtain and secure the video.

Friedman asked why Robinson didn't seek more technical help with the video, or keep a copy of Kavcic's copy. He also argued Robinson didn't follow "typical procedure" by verifying that the timecode on the surveillance equipment was recording the accurate time.

Flaws in investigator's notes

Robinson's notes don't include any reference to the new video, where it came from, or how it was made.

The defence also pointed to factual errors and vague statements in the investigator's notebook and correspondence over the course of the investigation.

In one instance, Robinson emailed the lead investigator to say he found blood on Montsion's baton after the incident. In fact, the baton belonged to Const. Dave Weir, the other officer on scene during the altercation.

An exhibit photo of Const. Dave Weir's baton taken the day after Abdi was arrested. Investigators found what they believe is a bloodstain on the shaft. (Supplied )

Robinson's final report was correct and he let his manager know about the error in person, but he never acknowledged the error in writing.

The correction wasn't noted in the lead investigator's notes, either.

Edelson also pointed out notes that were vague or incomplete, making it difficult to track how he handled his technical difficulties.

The lack of information doesn't comply with the SIU's policy to take detailed notes, Edelson said.

The Crown didn't make any remarks Thursday. The defence's cross examination of Robinson is set to continue Monday.