Ottawa constable’s blow to Abdi’s head ‘key’ to getting him handcuffed, officer testifies

The courthouse in Ottawa is shown on Tuesday, March 5, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

A blow that Const. Daniel Montsion dealt to Abdirahman Abdi’s head or face as he tried to arrest him in Hintonburg on July 24, 2016 was “key” to subduing Abdi and getting him into handcuffs, the other officer on scene testified in Montsion’s manslaughter trial on Tuesday.

Const. Dave Weir, under cross-examination, told an Ottawa court room that Abdi resisted arrest “many” times before the fatal confrontation outside 55 Hilda St. and still put up a fight after Weir and Montsion had him pinned face-down on the ground.

Weir, positioned on Abdi’s right side, said he couldn’t “budge” Abdi’s right arm because it was “stiff as a board.” Citing Weir’s statement of evidence of the incident, defence lawyer Michael Edelson said a “distraction blow” delivered by Montsion allowed the officers to fold Abdi’s arms and handcuff him.

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Abdi died in hospital the day after that altercation. The forensic pathologist who conducted his port-mortem examination said Abdi went into cardiac arrest at some point while lying handcuffed on the ground and died of hypoxic brain damage.

Montsion has pleaded not guilty to charges of manslaughter, aggravated assault and assault with a weapon in Abdi’s death. At the trial’s outset in early February, 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.

Montsion was the second officer to arrive on scene at 55 Hilda St. that day in July 2016. Weir was first called, minutes earlier, to respond to a disturbance involving Abdi at a nearby coffee shop, which quickly turned into a foot chase to Hilda Street.

Dispatch records show other officers could have heard Weir’s broadcasts

A typed record of police dispatches entered as evidence on Tuesday offered more details about the police response to the altercation at the Bridgehead café that Sunday morning.

The dispatch transcript shows the first 911 call for the Bridgehead incident came in at 9:37 a.m. and was characterized as a disturbance in progress with the police code for a disturbance, assault or fight.

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Weir was dispatched and on his way to the scene at 9:39 a.m., according to the record. In the three minutes that followed, more details about the nature of the incident came through dispatch: that the male suspect in question had thrown himself on top of one of the customers, was thrown out of the shop and was assaulting people outside, including a woman with a child.

WATCH (March 6, 2019): CCTV footage captures Abdirahman Abdi’s deadly 2016 confrontation with police
Click to play video: 'CCTV footage captures Abdirahman Abdi’s deadly 2016 confrontation with police'
CCTV footage captures Abdirahman Abdi’s deadly 2016 confrontation with police

At 9:42, Weir is on the record as having arrived on scene. A minute later, he radioed that Abdi was running east from the coffee shop. Around the same time, the radio channel was also “frozen,” which Weir said is an order that nobody talk so a particular officer has an open line.

In response to a question from Edelson, Weir said if the line was open, other officers in their police vehicles should’ve been able to hear his radio broadcasts and the sound of him running. Close to 9:45 a.m., Weir radioed that Abdi was running towards Hilda Street and “tossing stuff” and that he tried pepper-spraying Abdi with “no results.”

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Montsion was dispatched around 9:46 a.m., according to the transcript. Within the next two minutes, Weir radioed that Abdi was in custody and called for an ambulance since Abdi had been pepper-sprayed.

‘The most difficult call I ever took’

The dispatch record also shows the disturbance at the Bridgehead was categorized as a ‘priority 3’ call. (The most urgent calls are labelled ‘priority 1,’ according to Weir). Weir said he hadn’t know that was the case and argued this call should’ve been given higher priority.

“Any time there’s a chance of violence or evidence of violence it should be upped. And there’s two instances of [the suspect] pushing and laying on people but they still dispatched it as a priority 3 call,” Weir testified.

The dispatch record shows that at approximately 9:49 a.m., Montsion requested that the call be given higher priority, saying Abdi was unconscious.

“We’ll need another unit here. People are getting very upset,” Montsion is heard saying on an audio recording of that message played in court.

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Weir described the arrest on July 24, 2016 as “the most difficult call I ever took.”

He said he tried several times and used different methods to try to subdue and arrest Abdi before the confrontation on Hilda Street. They included verbal commands, pepper-spraying Abdi twice “to no effect” and two strikes with a baton.

Weir described Abdi’s non-compliance as “one of the worst scenarios when you’re arresting somebody.” Abdi didn’t appear to feel any pain, which was “a big alarm bell,” Weir told the court. The officer recalled feeling shocked, nervous and scared.

After Montsion arrived at 55 Hilda St., Abdi continued to resist, Weir said. As it replayed surveillance video that captured the incident, the defence brought the court’s attention to Abdi’s movements right as Montsion approached him. Abdi’s right hand and arm shoot out in Montsion’s direction in “a jabbing motion,” Edelson said.

Montsion and Weir proceed to punch and kick Abdi; the three struggle and Weir is able to push Abdi to the ground. While Weir said he couldn’t recall this,  Montsion then deals three blows to Abdi’s left thigh, which Edelson described as “a classic use of force technique” to strike a nerve in the leg and numb it in order to subdue an individual.

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WATCH (March 6, 2019): Abdirahman Abdi arrest: Surveillance footage captures dramatic confrontation
Click to play video: 'Abdirahman Abdi arrest: Surveillance footage captures dramatic confrontation'
Abdirahman Abdi arrest: Surveillance footage captures dramatic confrontation

Abdi kept resisting arrest on the ground, according to Weir. Seconds later, Montsion appears to punch Abdi’s head area at least once. After that, the two officers get him into cuffs.

Weir’s days on the witness stand have revealed some inconsistencies between the officer’s memory and photos and video of the events and where they took place.

On these discrepancies, Edelson asked Weir whether it’s possible he was “so in the moment” he may have forgotten certain details of the events or actions that he took. Weir stopped mid-way through his response and came back to it about a minute later.

“At that point, in my mind, I’m not just arresting a guy, I’m in survival mode myself,” Weir told the court.

“I can’t remember everything that happened, but I’m fighting for my friggin’ life and that’s the truth.”

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Weir’s cross-examination will continue Wednesday.

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