Const. Daniel Montsion’s manslaughter trial resumed virtually for final oral submissions on Monday with the defence counsel attempting to prove the Ottawa police officer was not criminally responsible in the death of Abdirahman Abdi during a violent arrest four years ago.
Solomon Friedman, counsel for the defence, argued Monday that Montsion walked into a “dynamic” situation with information warranting the officer’s use of force, not the “de-escalation” approach the Crown argues he should have taken.
Montsion was dispatched to the scene in front of Abdi’s Hintonburg apartment on July 24, 2016, where fellow Ottawa Police Service (OPS) Const. Dave Weir was already attempting to subdue the 37-year-old Somali-Canadian man who had caused a disturbance at a nearby Bridgehead Coffee shop.
Abdi was struck in the face numerous times over the course of the arrest. He was officially pronounced dead in hospital the following day after suffering a heart attack and hypoxic brain damage.
Following an Ontario Special Investigations Unit (SIU) probe, Montsion was charged with manslaughter, aggravated assault and assault with a deadly weapon in the incident, with the Crown arguing the injuries Abdi sustained contributed to his death. Weir was not charged in relation to the incident.
Montsion has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
As the trial resumed on Monday, Friedman played a series of audio recordings Montsion would have heard as he was dispatched to the scene at 55 Hilda St., including reports that Abdi had groped women and attacked people on the street.
He argued that audio from Weir indicated that he had pepper-sprayed Abdi to no effect, and was out of breath as he pursued Abdi back to his Hilda Street apartment.
Friedman then took the court through surveillance video of the incident frame by frame to establish that Montsion would have seen Weir striking Abdi with his baton as the defendant arrived, and argued that Abdi had also extended an arm towards Montsion as he approached the scene — in contrast to the Crown’s assertion that Abdi was only passively resisting by that time.
Friedman spent hours Monday deconstructing the video evidence available in the case, attempting to prove that each time Montsion used force in the arrest, he was doing so with deliberate purpose.
The surveillance video has been a point of contention in Montsion’s trial to date. The footage has been argued to be unreliable in determining the speed of blows exchanged between Abdi and the officers or when Abdi sustained the injuries that might have contributed to his death.
The defence counsel has also called into question the reliability of three eyewitnesses to the arrest — plus Weir’s own recollection of the event — based on discrepancies with a sequence of events seen in the video. Justice Robert Kelly, the judge presiding in the case, noted to Friedman that there were elements of the witnesses’ testimonies that were “generally consistent” and would have to be taken into consideration.
After laying out his interpretation of the evidence Monday, Friedman called the Crown’s de-escalation arguments a “farcical suggestion,” suggesting there is no duty for police to de-escalate when faced with a situation like the one Montsion entered four years ago.
“De-escalation is absolutely irrelevant,” Friedman said. “Const. Montsion had a duty to act and he acted.”
On Tuesday, the defence will wrap up its arguments and the Crown will attempt to prove that Montsion is criminally liable for Abdi’s injuries, arguing they contributed to his death.
Based on final written submissions from earlier in the year, counsel will argue that Montsion’s conduct was “unlawful” and the force he used was “unreasonable, unnecessary and disproportional” based on the information he could have had at the time he arrived on the scene.
Rather than attempt to de-escalate the situation unfolding between Weir and Abdi, the Crown will argue based on the evidence already presented that Montsion escalated the situation when he arrived.
The trial, which began in February 2019, was meant to resume earlier this year but was delayed due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.