The Ottawa Police Service has settled civil litigation with the family of Abdirahman Abdi, a few months after the officer charged in his 2016 death was fully acquitted in the criminal case.
Diane Deans, chair of the Ottawa Police Services Board, said in her update at Monday’s meeting that the force had come to a “mutual agreement” with Abdi’s family to conclude legal action.
Details of the settlement will not be made public, Deans said.
But in a joint statement with the OPS, the Abdi family indicated support of the force’s direction on addressing mental health crises.
“The parties mutually agree that change and significant improvements to the way police respond to individuals experiencing mental health events in our community is necessary and needs to take place in the immediate future,” the statement read.
“The Abdi family is encouraged by the Board and OPS’s stated intention to work in partnership with the community to develop and implement a new Mental Health Response Strategy to improve community safety and wellbeing for all residents of Ottawa, and asks the community to work cooperatively in pursuit of this goal. Ensuring better future outcomes will be an important legacy of Abdirahman’s life.”
Abdi, a 37-year-old Somali-Canadian man, died in 2016 following a violent arrest outside his Hintonburg apartment. His death became one of Ottawa’s highest profile cases of police violence.
The victim’s mental wellness had been a topic of debate during the criminal trial of the officer charged in his death as his family revealed during the proceedings that he was facing an undisclosed mental illness.
Abdi’s erratic behaviour at a Bridgehead Coffee shop, where reports indicate he had groped multiple patrons, prompted the call to police.
Surveillance video of the arrest showed OPS Const. Daniel Montsion struck Abdi multiple times with reinforced gloves in an attempt to subdue the man.
Abdi sustained injuries to his face and suffered a heart attack during the arrest. He died the following day in hospital as a result of brain hypoxia, the court heard during the trial.
Last October, Montsion was found not guilty of manslaughter, aggravated assault and assault with a weapon in Abdi’s death.
Lawrence Greenspon, the lawyer for Abdi’s family, said after the verdict came down that the family did not expect to find justice in the criminal trial and highlighted the civil litigation as a path forward.
“The family did not expect that the criminal justice system would be the way to resolve the systemic problems, including the challenges of dealing with those people who have mental health issues,” he said.
The 2021 Ottawa Police Services budget includes $1.5 million in spending on a new mental health strategy, which could see police integrated with social services providers to respond to crisis calls.
OPS Chief Peter Sloly will outline the consultation approach the local service will use in developing the new strategy later on Monday evening, though numerous delegates spoke earlier in the meeting against any police involvement in mental health responses going forward.