Witness in Ottawa police officer’s trial describes alleged sexual assault before Abdirahman Abdi’s arrest

Const. Daniel Montsion (centre) arrives with his defence lawyer, Solomon Friedman (right), at the Ottawa courthouse on Elgin Street on Feb. 25, 2019. Beatrice Britneff / Global News

A witness testifying in the criminal trial of Const. Daniel Montsion told an Ottawa courtroom on Wednesday that a man reached in through her open car window and grabbed her breast at a Hintonburg intersection on the morning of July 24, 2016 — a man identified by the defence as Abdirahman Abdi.

Abdi, 37, died following a violent confrontation with Ottawa police officers outside his apartment building that occurred minutes later that Sunday morning. Police were called to the area around 9:30 a.m. after a report of multiple sexual assaults.

Asked by the defence during cross-examination whether she considered what had happened to her to be a physical and sexual attack, the witness, whose name is protected by a publication ban, said, “Yes.”

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The witness, called to the stand by the Crown, said she was driving northbound up Fairmont Avenue that July morning around 9:30 a.m. on her way to a day spa in Gatineau with her friend, who was in the passenger’s seat.

As they stopped at a red light at the intersection of Fairmont Avenue and Wellington Street West, she told the court she made eye contact with a tall, dark-skinned and “well-dressed” man crossing the street, who then approached the driver’s side of her vehicle. He extended his hand, which she shook, and he repeatedly asked for her name, which she refused to provide, she said.

Court then heard that the man tightened his grip on the witness’ hand as she tried to pull it back and said, “I need to touch you, I want to touch you” multiple times, before he reached in with his other hand and grabbed her breast, squeezing it multiple times.

She went into “fight-or-flight” mode, she said, and drove the car forward, forcing the man to release his grip.

“The whole situation was strange.”

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The witness said she noticed the man’s eyes were bloodshot and wondered whether he was drunk but smelled no alcohol. She described his stare as “fixed” and “intensive.”

She said she doesn’t know what the man did or where he went after she drove away, turning right down Wellington Street West (not left, as she had planned to do before the incident occurred).

“I didn’t notice, to be honest,” she said. “I was pretty shook up by the situation.”

Witness’ friend reported incident to non-emergency police line

The witness said the friend seated beside her in the car reported the incident to the non-emergency police telephone line that day, but she didn’t speak with an officer until two days later.

During cross-examination, the witness told the court she had trouble sleeping for two or three weeks after she was allegedly assaulted. She dwelled on the possibility she could have hit a pedestrian in her panic, she said, and was also “bothered” by how she wasn’t in an “at-risk situation” when it occurred.

She works in the neighbourhood but “would hesitate” to walk through it after what happened, she told the court.

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When asked by the Crown whether she was unaware of Abdi’s altercation with police until she saw it on the news, the witness said that was the case.

Montsion was one of the two police officers involved in that confrontation in front of 55 Hilda St. that Sunday in 2016. The Crown has argued in court that Montsion committed an “unjustified assault” that contributed to Abdi’s death by punching the Somali-Canadian man several times with reinforced gloves.

The trial to determine whether Montsion is criminally responsible for Abdi’s death has been ongoing since Feb. 4. Montsion faces charges of manslaughter, aggravated assault and assault with a weapon. He pleaded not guilty to all three charges.

Courthouse implements increased security for trial

The trial is one that has drawn a high level of public interest.

Following what the judge described as a “serious and disturbing” incident reported to him on Tuesday, increased security measures were implemented outside the trial room on Wednesday.

According to media reports about the incident, an individual yelled at Montsion and hurled racist slurs at his defence lawyers within the courthouse.

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On Wednesday morning, a metal detector was installed outside the courtroom doors. Visitors were required to provide photo identification to security guards and sign in before handing over any bags for inspection and walking through the metal detector.

Members of the public visiting the courthouse on Elgin Street already have to go through airport-style security at the entrance.

Justice Robert Kelly said other security measures had been put in place in time for Wednesday morning but didn’t detail what those were. He said these measures may be modified as the judge-alone trial progresses.

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