‘I feel like I’m being used against him’, officer testifies in Ottawa constable’s trial
Const. Dave Weir, one of two Ottawa police officers involved in Abdirahman Abdi‘s violent arrest on July 24, 2016, told an Ottawa courtroom on Friday that he felt he was “being used against” Const. Daniel Montsion, who is on trial for manslaughter in Abdi’s death.
Weir told the court the day before, as he took the witness stand, that he felt like he was “between a rock and a hard place.” For its final question on Friday, the Crown asked Weir what he meant by that statement.
“I believe Dan saved me … and I feel like I’m being used against him,” Weir said, slowly and quietly. “And I don’t want to be in that position.
“That’s how I feel about it.”
Montsion has pleaded not guilty to charges of manslaughter, aggravated assault and assault with a weapon — charges laid against him by the Ontario Special Investigations Unit (SIU), which probed the circumstances surrounding Abdi’s arrest outside 55 Hilda St. Abdi was pronounced dead in hospital the next day.
Weir was not charged in connection to the arrest.
Court has heard Weir responded to a disturbance at the Bridgehead café on Wellington Street West at 9:37 a.m. that Sunday in July. He tried to arrest Abdi, who appeared to comply but then pulled away and fled. Weir then chased Abdi on foot to the apartment building on Hilda Street, about 250 metres northeast of the coffee shop.
During that time, Weir said he tried several times to restrain Abdi, including through the use of pepper spray, but nothing worked. He has testified he was “scared” of Abdi’s strength and didn’t want to get too close to him.
“I’m very glad Dan showed up when he did, because I believe he saved my life,” he told the court on Thursday.
Police dispatch audio played in court
Police dispatch audio recordings played in court on Friday recount, to an extent, that series of events and also indicate that Weir suspected Abdi had mental health issues.
Weir interpreted five brief audio clips of his voice for the court. At 9:43 a.m., he relayed that Abdi was running east from the coffee shop; a minute later, he said Abdi was running towards Hilda Street and “tossing stuff” and that he tried pepper-spraying Abdi with “no results.”
At 9:45 a.m., Weir radioed that he and Abdi were at Wellington and Hilda, and Abdi was walking “right in front of 55 Hilda.” Two minutes later, he said, “The male has been sprayed here.”
And then, at 9:47:14 a.m. — after he and Montsion handcuffed Abdi, Weir said — he provided more details about the situation.
“It’s just the one [person]. He’s more 59 than anything I think,” Weir translated, adding that “59” is the police 10-code for mental health issues.
Weir continued to say that Abdi was either foaming or bleeding — the officer couldn’t discern which on Friday — from the mouth.
“He was grabbing women’s breasts and took a swing at the manager so I need someone to go do statements there,” Weir said.
Court has heard Abdi had previously been prescribed antipsychotic drugs, but hadn’t been taking them prior to his arrest.
CCTV videos played for Weir
Weir on Friday was also shown two different copies of surveillance video that captured Abdi’s arrest. (Several copies of this CCTV footage exist but none have been admitted as evidence in trial to date. The defence is challenging their reliability as evidence.)
The footage shows Weir and Abdi running into the entrance way at 55 Hilda, with Montsion arriving shortly after. The two officers kick and punch Abdi before Weir gets him to the ground. Montsion then appears to deal additional blows to Abdi’s legs and head or face area.
Asked whether the videos match his memory of the events, Weir told the court the first version — taken from the digital video recorder system — is “pretty close” to what he remembers. But he said Abdi’s takedown appears “kind of quick.”
“It looks like he’s going down faster than I remember. I remember it being slow,” he said.
He said the second video — an exported MP4 copy of the first video in which the figures’ movements appear less jerky — is “more how I remember it.
“Specifically, the takedown. That’s how I see it when I replay it,” he said.
Weir also said he doesn’t remember striking Abdi with his baton, but does recall “collapsing it at the very end.”
The force and speed of Abdi’s takedown has become a focal point in the trial as the Crown and defence have offered different theories about the cause of “extensive” facial injuries Abdi sustained during the struggle. At the trial’s outset, the Crown said it intends to prove that facial injuries caused by Montsion’s “unjustified punches” to Abdi’s face were one of several factors that brought about Abdi’s death.
The forensic pathologist who examined Abdi’s body said he “certainly” thinks those facial injuries could have been caused by blows to his face, but couldn’t rule out the possibility they were caused in a fall.
Dr. Christopher Milroy told the court that Abdi went into cardiac arrest at some point when he was on the ground and died in hospital of hypoxic brain damage. Milroy listed the physiological effects of the running, the struggle and Abdi’s injuries as contributing factors.
But the pathologist testified that he can’t pinpoint exactly what triggered the cardiac arrest or when the heart attack would have been “inevitable.” He said it’s possible that Abdi’s heart — already in critical condition due to a severe, underlying heart condition — had been strained to “the point of no return” before the confrontation with Weir and Montsion outside 55 Hilda St.
Montsion’s defence lawyers began their cross-examination of Weir on Friday afternoon.
Proceedings will resume on June 25.