Ottawa: Witness who recorded arrest of Abdirahman Abdi says he had mental illness

Witness who recorded arrest that left man critically hurt describes emotional toll

‘It looked like the police could have taken a different approach in the situation,’ witness says

By Kristy Nease, CBC News Posted: Jul 25, 2016 11:25 AM ET Last Updated: Jul 26, 2016 12:44 PM ET

Nimao Ali watched and recorded as Ottawa police arrested Abdirahman Abdi, a neighbour of hers whom she describes as a man with a mental illness who didn't intimidate or worry residents.

Nimao Ali watched and recorded as Ottawa police arrested Abdirahman Abdi, a neighbour of hers whom she describes as a man with a mental illness who didn’t intimidate or worry residents. (Idil Mussa/CBC)

  • Abdirahman Abdi was pronounced dead at 3:17 p.m. Monday, four hours after this article appeared.

A woman who watched and recorded as Ottawa police arrested a man she knew, who was later taken to hospital in critical condition and remains in hospital, says that while she respects the job police do, she believes the situation that unfolded Sunday could have been handled differently.

At about 9:30 a.m., police were called to Wellington Street West and Fairmont Avenue after receiving reports of groping.

Abdirahman Abdi, 37, suffered ‘medical distress’ during a confrontation with police on Sunday and was taken to The Ottawa Hospital’s Civic campus, where he was listed in critical condition Monday.

Officers found a 37-year-old man and were involved in a “confrontation” with him outside a building at 55 Hilda St. a few blocks away, according to Ontario’s police watchdog, the Special Investigations Unit.

Sources told CBC News the officers used a baton and pepper spray.

During that confrontation, the man suffered “medical distress,” the SIU said.

A cellphone video recorded by resident Nimao Ali at first shows the man — identified by his family as Abdirahman Abdi, a Somali-Canadian of Ottawa — lying on the sidewalk on his stomach, handcuffed and bleeding, while an officer held him to the ground using a knee.

Then, Abdi stops moving.

‘A very peaceful guy’

“It was devastating to see that he was bleeding, and as I looked at him he actually stopped moving. So I could see he stopped breathing. And it took a long time for the ambulance to come, and it’s really sad to see that,” Ali, who lives in the same building as Abdi, told CBC News in an interview on Sunday.

“I don’t know what to say. It’s devastating. We know him, the gentleman. He has a mental illness, a very peaceful guy. I have children in the building and he walks around, he’s good with the kids, he’s good with all the neighbours, never a problem.

“And all of a sudden, that he’s bleeding on the front steps of our building and dying, it was a devastating thing to see.”

The video then shows paramedics arriving and performing CPR on the man with police. He was then taken to hospital, where he remained in critical condition on Monday.

‘We never felt threatened by him’

Ali said she’d like to see police taking more time to consider the situations they face.

“I understand that police officers have a really hard job … but there’s times people have to use their common sense, and there’s times people have to be sensitive to other people, and there’s times that police officers — or anybody with guns and weapons — have to really consider, is this person OK? Are they mentally ill? Are they running away, are they threatening me? … all the blood that he lost could have been saved for a matter of just really taking this calmly. Because everybody in the [neighbourhood knows him] and we never felt threatened by him,” she said.

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