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

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.

“It was the key to getting his arms behind his back,” Weir replied.

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, which quickly turned into a foot chase to Hilda Street.

Court records shows Montsion dispatched at 9:46 a.m.

A typed record of police dispatches entered as evidence on Tuesday offered more precise 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.

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.

At 9:42, Weir is on the record as having arrived on scene. Three minutes later, he radioed that he was running eastbound on Somerset (although he has clarified he and Abdi were on Wellington). At 9:45 a.m., 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.

At 9:46 a.m., Montsion was dispatched, according to the transcript, although there is no reference to his arrival on scene at 55 Hilda St. Weir agreed with Edelson that in urgent situations, officers might not have time to push the button to tell dispatch they’re on scene.

Two minutes later, at 9:48 a.m., 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 chance 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.

“I’m not happy that they did that.”

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.

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

He said he used tried several times and used different methods to try to subdue and arrest Abdi before the confrontation on Hilda Street. They included verbal commands, a foot chase, 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 shoots 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.

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 or elements of the events that occurred. Weir stopped mid-way through his response and came back to it about a minute later.

“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.”

Weir’s cross-examination will continue Wednesday.

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