A Somali-Canadian man from Ottawa with mental health issues was pronounced dead Monday after being severely beaten by police officers a day earlier, but his family says they were told by the doctors he was dead before arriving in the hospital.
Abdirahman Abdi, 37, had been on life support at the Ottawa Hospital's Civic Campus since the incident Sunday morning, according to official statements. However, his family was told by the doctors that he was dead at least 45 minutes before he was brought to the hospital Sunday.
Abdi's family and neighbors said he had a "mental capacity issue" and "mental health issues" but that he was also a gentle soul.
"I heard the screaming, and then I come out and I see my brother lying down, police hitting so badly. Like, I've never seen something like that in my life," Abdi's brother Abdirizaq Abdi told CBC News Sunday.
Ontario's police watchdog, the Special Investigations Unit, confirmed the death and said it was investigating two officers over the killing of Abdi and so far has identified five officers as witnesses.
According to investigators the police were responding to reports of a man allegedly groping people at a coffee shop. When they arrived they found Abdi and a "confrontation" broke out between the officers and the man that eventually led to his death.
Nimao Ali, who witnessed the incident, told CBS that everyone in the neighborhood knew him and never felt threatened by him.
"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?" Nimao Ali, who witnessed the incident, told CBS.
On Sunday, before Abdi was pronounced dead, Ottawa Police Chief Charles Bordeleau said his officers have a difficult job and that he supports them as their chief.
Also, even before the investigation began, the local police union came out in support of the officers and said that the victim having a mental health issue would not have mattered.
"What was presented to the officer was ... assaultive behavior, and it's a very difficult scenario for the officers to deal with—and unfortunately, as a result of it, there was physical altercation," union president Matt Skof, said earlier Monday.
"The officers are confronted with violence, they have to deal with it to prevent more injuries to the members of the public, to the subject or suspect themselves, as well as the officers," he added.
The news comes as Canada’s neighbor the United States has been rocked with unrest over the recent killings of two Black men, which reignited a national debate about police brutality and racism committed by law enforcement.