The Ottawa man who died this week after a confrontation with police seemed to be suffering from depression and was looking for a job in the days leading up to the incident, according to his former boss.
Abdirahman Abdi stopped by the car-wash business owned by Tony Shahrasebi on Friday, Shahrasebi told Global News, and asked if he could resume a job he had left behind a few months earlier when he travelled to his native Somalia to get married.
“I think he realized when he married in Somalia … he’d have to have a job to be able to able to sponsor the wife,” the business owner explained. “I think that gave him some stress and depression … that’s my feeling from my conversation with him on Friday.”
Abdi had previously worked at the car wash on Catherine Street for four years and never caused any trouble, Shahrasebi said, adding that he had asked Abdi where his wife was on Friday. Abdi replied they were “separated.”
“He was a hardworking man, he did the work to the best of his capabilities,” Shahrasebi noted. “He was verbal, he spoke better English than many people who were here 30 years.”
WARNING GRAPHIC CONTENT: Video shows aftermath of Abdirahman Abdi police confrontation
Abdi died in hospital following a violent struggle with Ottawa police outside the Hintonburg building where he lived on July 24.
The 37-year-old has been described by locals as a “fixture” in the community who may have had some mental health challenges, but generally was not disruptive or violent.
“He’s a fixture in the neighbourhood,” said Jeff Leiper, Ottawa city councillor for Kitchissippi Ward, at a vigil held for Abdi on Tuesday night.
“When we lose anybody, a fixture or not, we’re taking it pretty hard.”
Leiper said he was “shaken” and “disturbed” by Abdi’s death, but he doesn’t have enough information to judge what led up to it.
“How did that altercation turn out the way that it did? Right now, I don’t have nearly enough facts to know,” he said, adding that he understands why people are asking if the fact that Abdi was black played a role.
“I don’t know enough about what happened to know whether that even played in, but I certainly recognize why people are asking. It’s hard not to, when we’re being bombarded with the headlines week in and week out.”
Police were called to a coffee shop on Sunday morning to respond to reports of a man groping female customers. In the minutes that followed, they located Abdi and he allegedly resisted arrest. There was a physical struggle before he was handcuffed and lost consciousness.
WARNING GRAPHIC CONTENT: Video shows paramedics attending to man who died following Ottawa police arrest
Video shot in the aftermath shows Abdi lying on the pavement, bleeding and being held down by the officers. Witnesses have said he was severely beaten.
“Once we’ve done the funeral, the truth is going to come out about who he was,” said Abdi’s brother-in-law, Khalif Ismail, at the Tuesday night vigil. “The whole world will see what happened.”
Members of Abdi’s extended family thanked the community for its support on Tuesday night. His funeral is set for Friday.
“He was a very gentle soul, he wouldn’t harm anybody,” said car-wash owner Shahrasebi. “I don’t believe he deserved to die like this.”
Abdi was a practicing Muslim who prayed every day, he said, and one worker at the car wash considered him to be “like a son.”
“He came to this new land with a hope to have a better life. All of his dreams were shattered with this … I hope they do a thorough investigation on this.”
© 2016 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.