Umar Zameer not guilty in death of Toronto police officer

Umar Zameer is a free man after he was acquitted of a first degree murder charge in the 2021 death of Detective Constable Jeffrey Northrup. Erica Natividad is following the story and has reaction from Northrup's family who say they are disappointed

By Erica Natividad, Caryn Ceolin and The Canadian Press

Umar Zameer has been found not guilty of first-degree murder in the death of Det. Const. Jeffrey Northrup.

The verdict was delivered Sunday afternoon after almost four days of deliberations, during which the jury asked three questions. In the end, they found Zameer not guilty of all charges including second-degree murder and manslaughter.

The 34-year-old accountant and his family members burst into tears when the verdict was read out. Ontario Superior Court Justice Anne Molloy addressed Zameer briefly before exiting the courtroom, offering “my deepest apologies for what you’ve been through.”

“I never meant any of this to happen. I am sorry for what had happened,” Zameer said moments after walking out of court a free man in his first public statement since his arrest almost three years ago.

“It’s not a day for celebration but it is a day for immense relief because it wouldn’t have done any good at all to brand Mr. Zameer a criminal,” said his attorney Nader Hasan following the verdict. “He is not a criminal, this was an unfortunate, terrible situation that happened and as a result an unfortunate, tragic death ensued but it was not intentional, it was not a criminal act, it was an accident.”

Toronto Police Chief Myron Demkiw said in a statement that while they respect the judicial process, “I share the feelings of our members who were hoping for a different outcome.”

“We will now focus on coming together as a policing family during this difficult time,” said Demkiw. “Our members, both sworn and civilian, in the Toronto Police family are still devastated by the tragic and sudden loss of their friend and colleague.”

Northrup’s wife, Margaret, 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, a hero in life not death.”

Hasan reiterated outside the court that this should never have gone to trial.

“The question as to why it did is a question you’ll have to ask my friends, the Crown attorney’s office.”

Crown attorney Michael Cantlon did not address the media but issued a brief statement in which he said Northrup’s death “warranted a trial to determine accountability.”

“We want to thank the jury for their dedication, attention and hard work over these last five weeks. We have great faith and respect in the justice system,” said Cantlon

There was no indication given if the Crown plans to file an appeal at this point.

The facts that Zameer ran over Northrup and caused his death were not in dispute. Rather, the case centred on whether Zameer meant to hit Northrup – or even knew it happened – and whether he knew Northrup and his partner, who were in plain clothes, were police officers.

Prosecutors alleged Zameer knew Northrup was an officer and drove directly at him, while the defence argued Zameer thought he and his family were being attacked by robbers and tried to escape in the safest way possible.

During the trial, the court heard that on July 2, 2021, Zameer, his pregnant wife and their two-year-old son were in downtown Toronto for Canada Day celebrations, visiting from their home in Vaughan. They returned to the parking garage at Toronto City Hall just after midnight.

Northrup and his partner, Sgt. Lisa Forbes, were in the garage investigating a stabbing. Both were in plain clothes at the time.

Zameer was not involved in the stabbing in any way, but earlier in the night he and his family had coincidentally walked past the victim.

At some point the officers approached Zameer’s vehicle, ultimately setting off a chain of events that led to Northrup being fatally struck.

Throughout the trial, Zameer’s defence lawyer maintained that his client didn’t know that Northrup and his partner were police officers and that Zameer and his wife thought they were being ambushed by criminals when the officers rushed towards them in the deserted underground parking lot.

Prosecutors argued Zameer chose to make a series of maneuvers with his car while plainclothes police officers were close by, hitting Northrup and crushing the officer’s body under the vehicle.

Three police officers, including Northrup’s partner, provided eyewitness testimony claiming that the veteran detective was standing with his hands up the moment before he was fatally struck.

However, two crash reconstruction experts – one called by the Crown and one by the defence – told court they concluded Northrup had been side swiped and knocked down by the car as it was reversing and was already on the ground when he was run over.

Outside the courtroom, Hasan said the trial should be a teachable moment for police.

“Number one don’t lie when you’re testifying in court under oath, don’t commit perjury and don’t put up witnesses to commit perjury – those are three important lessons to be learned here.”

The encounter happened roughly a month after a man killed four members of a Muslim family in London, Ont. Zameer’s wife, Shaikh, wears a headscarf, prompting them to fear the worst, Hasan said.

The Toronto Police Board released a statement saying, “The death of Detective Constable Jeffrey Northrup was a terrible tragedy, and a tremendous loss. He was a dedicated, professional and caring police officer, a wonderful and devoted husband and father, and an exceptional human being. He was deeply loved by all who knew him.”

“These are unchangeable truths.”

The board continued saying they respect the legal process and verdict, but it “does not change the immense grief we feel for the loss of Constable Northrup, or the enormous tragedy of his death.”

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