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Accused in Toronto cop’s death gives tearful apology, says he thought officers were criminals

A man accused of running over a Toronto police officer nearly three years ago recounted, through tears, the moment he thought his family was being ambushed by criminals during his trial on Thursday. 

Umar Zameer has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in the death of Det.-Const. Jeffrey Northrup, who died after he was hit by a car in an underground parking garage on July 2, 2021.

Zameer was in downtown Toronto with his pregnant wife and young son to enjoy Canada Day festivities, court has heard. 

As he was preparing to drive his BMW out of the parking garage around midnight, with his family inside, Zameer said he saw a man and a woman in plain clothes rushing towards the car. 

The woman knocked on the car window and pointed downwards. 

Zameer said he didn’t understand what the downward gesture meant. He was unsure whether the woman was asking him to open the car or roll down the window. 

Umar Zameer, left, describes to crown attorney Karen Simone, how Const. Lisa Forbes was pointing to him outside his vehicle window.
Umar Zameer, left, describes to Crown prosecutor Karen Simone, how Const. Lisa Forbes was pointing to him outside his vehicle window. (Pam Davies/CBC)

“I thought they [were] trying to rob us,” he said. The pair did not identify themselves as police, he added.

He said he quickly pressed a button to lock the car doors. The moment he did so, he said the pair started banging on the car.

“They were shouting so loud, ‘stop, stop, get out the car,'” he recalled. 

The banging was so loud that his two-year-old son, sitting in a car seat in the back, started to cry. 

Zameer said he started driving forward to move away from the pair and get out of the parking spot. The moment he did so, he said a dark grey van “came out of nowhere,” blocking him. 

Image of a police officer in uniform.
Const. Jeffrey Northrup died after being struck by a vehicle in the parking garage at city hall in 2021. (Toronto Police Service/Twitter)

“I was so scared,” he said. “I thought, it’s not just two people. It’s this whole gang.” 

He said his wife, sitting next to him in the passenger seat, began hyperventilating. 

“I remember she couldn’t even pronounce my name properly,” Zameer said, adding that he worried the fear had started her labour. 

He said he looked back, rested his hand on his crying son’s knees and reversed the car. 

Only when he reversed did the banging and shouting stop, he said. As he drove forward, he noticed what he thought was a speed bump, he said. 

As he proceeded to drive toward the parking garage exit, he said he told his wife to call the police, fearing the van would follow them. He had seen police in the area earlier in the night. 

“I thought they would immediately come down and save us,” he said. 

Man making a knocking motion in the witness box in a courtroom. A judge, defence lawyer, and crown counsel can also be seen.
Umar Zameer demonstrates how a woman knocked on his car door in the witness box on Tuesday. Zameer is accused of killing Toronto police officer Det.-Const. Jeffrey Northrup nearly three years ago. (Pam Davies/CBC)

Accused testifies officer punched him in the face

After he left the exit, Zameer said he was hit from behind. A man came out of the vehicle, pointed a gun at him and told him to get out of the car. Zameer said he immediately got out. 

“I thought he was just going to shoot anytime,” he said. “I didn’t want [my son] to see this.” 

As Zameer exited the car, he said he was so scared that he urinated himself. The man told him to lie down on the ground. After he did so, his hands were cuffed from behind, he said. 

The man then told Zameer to get up. As Zameer struggled to get up with his hands cuffed, he said a second man approached him and punched his face. 

“[The second man] said, ‘you ran over my partner,'” Zameer recounted. “I said, ‘I didn’t run over anyone.’ And he said, ‘we are the police.'” 

This was the first time Zameer heard the word “police,” he testified on Thursday. 

In response, Zameer told the second man he didn’t know they were police and that his family were in fact calling the police. The man nodded, he said, and turned away and pointed at blood on the BMW.

“He said, ‘Look at that. That’s the brains of my partner,'” Zameer recalled. 

He told the jury this was the moment that he thought the speed bump he had driven over could have been a person. 

Accused prayed officer would be OK

Two men look to the side.
Umar Zameer, left, with his defence lawyer Nader Hasan, on Tuesday, March 19, at the beginning of his trial. On Thursday, Zameer told the jury he feared his family was being ambushed by a gang of criminals. (Pam Davies/CBC)

In court on Thursday, Zameer said he was in horrified disbelief after learning he had hit someone. After he was cuffed, he said he was taken in a “metal van” to the police station.”

“All this time in the van, I was praying that the man would be OK,” Zameer said. 

Once he was in the police station, he was told the person he struck had died. “I couldn’t feel the ground under my legs,” he said. “I couldn’t believe someone actually died under my car.” 

As he spoke of Northrup’s death, Zameer began to cry in the witness box again. He apologized several times to the officer’s children. 

“I didn’t mean to hurt your dad,” Zameer said. “I just wish I could bring him back.”

Northrup left behind a wife and three children. 

In the witness box, Zameer said he knows himself about the “father and son bond.” The 34-year-old accountant is now a father of three, though he only had one son at the time of the incident. 

Defence say officer’s death was tragic accident

Sketch of two lawyers in court
Crown prosecutors Michael Cantlon and Karen Simone in court on Tuesday. While cross-examining Zameer, Simone suggested that the man and woman who approached his car on July 1, 2021 identified themselves as police, but Zameer said they did not. (Pam Davies/CBC)

During cross-examination on Thursday, Crown prosecutor Karen Simone suggested Zameer could see that the man and the woman who approached his car — Northrup and his partner Sgt. Lisa Forbes — were wearing police badges. 

However, Zameer said he did not see any badge on the pair at the time. 

Simone also said Northrup and Forbes told Zameer that they were police when they first approached his car. 

But Zameer said the pair never identified themselves as police.  

“Why wouldn’t I stop if they [said] ‘police?’ Why wouldn’t I talk to them?” Zameer said. “I didn’t do anything wrong.” 

Court has previously heard that Northrup and his partner — both dressed in plain clothes — were investigating a stabbing when they went into the garage underneath Toronto City Hall. Zameer was not involved in the stabbing.

Crown prosecutors allege Zameer chose to make a series of manoeuvres with his car that caused Northrup’s death, but the defence says the officer’s death was a tragic accident.

Defence lawyers say neither Zameer nor his wife knew the people who approached them in the largely empty parking garage were police officers.

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