Canada police officer found not guilty in death of mentally ill Black man

Steve Scherer
·2-min read
Protesters march in Ottawa

Canada police officer found not guilty in death of mentally ill Black man

Protesters march in Ottawa

By Steve Scherer

OTTAWA (Reuters) - A Canadian police officer was found not guilty on Tuesday of manslaughter and assault charges in the death of a mentally ill Black man who was arrested in Ottawa in 2016, in a case that sparked nationwide protests.

Abdirahman Abdi, 37, died after being hospitalized in critical condition following his arrest. Witnesses told local media he was beaten by Ottawa police officers who responded to calls of a disturbance.

In his ruling, Ontario Court Justice Robert Kelly said that although the trial was "long and difficult," he was ultimately "left with reasonable doubt" that Ottawa Police Service Constable Daniel Montsion's actions led to the death of Abdi, a Somali immigrant.

The prosecution had argued that unnecessary force was used during the arrest but acknowledged that Abdi had not been taking his prescription medication for a mental health issue and said the arrest was justified, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp said.

"The family was devastated by the decision," Lawrence Greenspon, a lawyer for Abdi's family, told Reuters.

But he added the verdict came as no surprise.

"The family did not expect that the criminal justice system would be the means to resolve the systemic problems including dealing with people with mental health problems which led to Abdirahman's death," he said.

The ruling was met with outrage and pain in Canada's Somali community.

"For all of us who have been invested in this trial expecting justice, expecting peace, we didn't get it today," said Somali-Canadian playwright Habiba Ali in a video streamed on social media.

"We knew that justice was not in this world. It is a slap in the face that (the judge) said it's not even assault."

One of Montsion's lawyers, Michael Edelson, said the police officer was looking forward to getting back to work, though he did not know when that would happen, according to comments broadcast live on CTV after the ruling.

"(Montsion) feels greatly relieved that this ordeal is over and is looking forward to going back into service," Edelson said.

The death sparked protests in Canada four years ago, and the ruling follows demonstrations in many Canadian cities in recent months that were inspired by those in the United States against police brutality and racism.

(Reporting by Steve Scherer in Ottawa and Moira Warburton in Toronto; Editing by Chris Reese and Sonya Hepinstall)