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Jury finds Umar Zameer not guilty in death of Toronto police officer

Umar Zameer leaves a Toronto courthouse on Friday, April 19, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

TORONTO — Sobs of relief and frustration erupted in a Toronto courtroom Sunday as a man accused of fatally running over a city police officer was found not guilty in his death.

Umar Zameer appeared to collapse when the verdict was read out on the fourth day of jury deliberations, leaning on his lawyers for support before rushing to his wife for a long and tearful hug.

Zameer had pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in the death of Det. Const. Jeffrey Northrup, who died on July 2, 2021 after he was hit by a vehicle in an underground parking garage at Toronto City Hall.

Toronto Police Chief Myron Demkiw was seen hugging Northrup's widow after the verdict was announced. Northrup's partner, Sgt. Lisa Forbes, was also by her side.

Ontario Superior Court Justice Anne Molloy addressed Zameer briefly before exiting the courtroom, telling him he was free to go and offering "my deepest apologies for what you've been through."

Outside the courthouse, Zameer thanked his lawyers profusely and described Northrup's death as an accident he continues to lament. 

"I am sorry for what has happened, but I never meant any of this to happen to this day," he said.

His lawyer, Nader Hasan, said it was not a day for celebration but rather "a day for relief."

Zameer, his family and the defence are all saddened by Northrup's death, he said, but added it would have been unfair to label his client as a criminal. 

“This was an unfortunate, terrible situation that happened and as a result, an unfortunate, tragic death ensued," Hasan said. "But it was not intentional, it was not a criminal act -- it was an accident, plain and simple.”

The case should never have gone to trial, he said.

Northrup's widow, Margaret Northrup, expressed disappointment with the verdict.

"From day one, all I’ve wanted is accountability. We miss Jeff every day. However, we continue on with him in our hearts, never to be forgotten,” she said outside court.

The police chief said Jeffrey Northrup was remembered as an outstanding officer and member of the community. This has been a "very difficult time" for the police service, Demkiw said.

“While we respect the judicial process and appreciate the work of everyone involved in this difficult case … we were hoping for a different outcome,” the chief said.

Crown attorney Michael Cantlon issued a written statement, saying the events surrounding Northrup's death "warranted a trial to determine accountability."

The fact that Zameer ran over Northrup and caused his death was not disputed during the trial. Rather, the case centred on whether Zameer meant to hit Northrup — or even knew it happened — and whether he knew Northrup and his partner were police officers.

In her final instructions to jurors on Thursday, Molloy said there were four possible verdicts based on the evidence: first-degree murder, second-degree murder, manslaughter, or not guilty of any offence.

The trial has heard Northrup and his partner, both plainclothes officers, approached Zameer’s car shortly after midnight as they were investigating a stabbing. Zameer was not involved in that stabbing. 

Northrup’s partner, then a detective constable, testified the two of them walked over while Zameer was still outside the car, and she repeatedly identified herself as an officer. Forbes said she started yelling and banging on the car after it lurched forward.

An unmarked police van with tinted windows blocked the car’s path, and court has heard Zameer reversed, angled the car back, then accelerated down the garage laneway, running over Northrup. He was arrested shortly after the unmarked van rammed into his car at the exit gate.

Forbes and the two officers who were in the van testified that Northrup was standing in the laneway with his hands outstretched when Zameer drove directly at him. The officers in the van, constables Antonio Correa and Scharnil Pais, said Northrup fell on the hood and then to the ground and under the wheels.

Zameer testified he was in the car with his eight-months-pregnant wife and their two-year-old son when two strangers, a man and a woman, rushed over. He said he locked the doors and the pair started yelling and banging on the car. Zameer said he thought his family was being attacked and he drove forward to get away.

He told court he was even more alarmed when the van blocked his exit, and he decided to reverse quickly to get away. Zameer said he looked back while reversing and in front when moving forward and never saw anything or anyone in the way.

Both he and his wife testified they thought they had gone over a speed bump and didn't realize they had hit a person until after Zameer's arrest.

Two crash reconstruction experts told the court they concluded that Northrup fell after the car made glancing contact with him while reversing, and was on the ground when he was run over. Both found there was no damage or dust disturbance on the car that would indicate someone had been hit head-on.

Barry Raftery, the crash reconstructionist called by the defence, also testified Northrup would have been in the car's blind zone and not visible to Zameer when on the ground.

Security video from the garage shows an unidentified object believed to be Northrup's body appearing on the ground in front of the car as it is moving forward down the laneway. Northrup cannot be seen at any other point in the video.

The camera's view is obstructed by a pillar on the left, meaning the initial parts of the encounter cannot be seen. However, it has a clear view of the laneway where the officers said Northrup was standing.

Raftery said the sudden appearance of Northrup's body in the video suggests he was dragged or pushed under the car from behind the pillar until he came into view of the camera.

In their closing submissions, Crown prosecutors argued the officers were wrong about where Northrup was hit, but correct that he was standing. They argued the collision took place behind the pillar, out of view of the camera.

The judge told jurors it was her opinion there was no evidence that fully supported the Crown's theory that Northrup was hit while standing behind the pillar. 

On the other hand, she said, the defence's theory was consistent with the testimony of Zameer and his wife, both experts and the security video.

Molloy also told jurors they had to consider whether the three officers who witnessed the incident colluded, considering all three had the same incorrect memory of what happened.

Demkiw did not take questions outside the courthouse but was asked as he returned to his car whether he would address the allegations of perjury that arose against the officers. Demkiw replied that it was "not the day" for that. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 21, 2024. 

Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press

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