The Crown will not seek to appeal the not-guilty verdict in the manslaughter trial of Ottawa police Const. Daniel Montsion, but legal counsel representing the victim’s family believes a civil action on the matter still has merit.
On Oct. 20, an Ontario court judge found Montsion not guilty of manslaughter, aggravated assault and assault with a weapon in relation to the violent arrest and subsequent death of 37-year-old Abdirahman Abdi in 2016.
The Crown has 30 days to appeal a verdict in a criminal trial under provincial legislation.
But Randy Schwartz, director of the Crown criminal law office in Ontario, confirmed to Global News in an email this week that the Crown will not pursue an appeal in the case.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of the Attorney General told Global News in a statement Thursday that “the Crown’s right of appeal from an acquittal is limited to errors of law, and does not include errors relating to factual matters.
“After a thorough review of the judge’s decision and the legal aspects of this case, the Crown has concluded that there is no legal basis upon which to appeal the acquittal,” the spokesperson said.
Ottawa lawyer Lawrence Greenspon, who is representing the Abdi family in an upcoming civil action against Montsion and the local police board, said Thursday that the family is “disappointed with the result.”
Greenspon told Global News in a phone call that many of the judge’s reasonings in his final verdict were based on a criminal standard of proof as opposed to a civil one, giving him confidence the upcoming suit could turn out differently.
He said he hopes the Ottawa Police Services Board will look at the claim and come to a settlement before it moves to trial.
If it ends up in court, Greenspon said he expects preliminary examinations could begin sometime in mid-to-late 2021.
The news that the criminal trial will not go to an appeal found the Justice for Abdirahman Coalition “outraged but not surprised,” according to a thread from the advocacy group on Twitter.
The coalition formed after Abdi’s death in 2016 and has since pushed for police reform and legislation to address systemic and institutionalized racism in Ottawa and across the province.
The group argued that the lack of an appeal provides further proof of the judicial system’s failures to protect and deliver justice for Black people, especially those with mental illness.
“The state protects its own. The sad truth is that if Abdirahman was white, he wouldn’t have died at the hands of police,” one tweet read.
Abdi was pronounced dead in hospital the day after a violent altercation with police in front of his Hintonburg apartment building. Witnesses testified during the case that he was behaving erratically and groping patrons at a nearby coffee shop before police arrived on the scene.
The Crown attempted to argue during the trial that Montsion’s actions during the arrest, which included striking Abdi in the face numerous times with reinforced gloves, contributed to his eventual death as a result of brain hypoxia.
Ontario court Judge Robert Kelly said in his reasoning that he found “reasonable doubt” that Montsion’s actions that day led directly to Abdi’s death.
Legal action aside, Greenspon said he believes the ultimate effect of Abdi’s death and the subsequent trial will be an improvement to how Ottawa police handle mental crises in the future. His family revealed after his death that said Abdi suffered from mental illness.
Speaking on behalf of the family on Thursday, Greenspon expressed support for Chief Peter Sloly’s stated plans to overhaul the response to mental health concerns in Ottawa.
The 2021 draft police budget includes $1.5 million to craft this new strategy, which could see the force work with other health-care professionals in the city to craft a non-police-led response to mental health calls.
“We are confident there is going to be change in the way police deal with people with mental health issues,” Greenspon said.