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Man accused of running over Toronto constable testifies at murder trial

A man accused of running over a Toronto police officer nearly three years ago described walking around the city’s downtown with his pregnant wife and young son that evening as he took the stand in his murder trial Tuesday.

Umar Zameer began laying out his account of the events that led up to the death of Det. Const. Jeffrey Northrup on July 2, 2021.

Zameer, who was 31 at the time, said he, his wife Aaida Shaikh and their two-year-old son came to downtown Toronto from their home in Woodbridge, Ont., on the evening of July 1, 2021, because they wanted to celebrate Canada Day.

They parked in the garage under Toronto City Hall, went to Yonge Dundas Square and eventually walked back to the city hall area using a different route, he said.

At some point, the family crossed paths with a man who had been stabbed, he told the court. Later, they saw police and paramedics had someone on a stretcher, and wondered if it was the same person they had seen, Zameer said. He and his wife then decided to call it a night and headed back to the car, he said.

Zameer has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in Northrup’s death. The officer died after he was struck by a vehicle in the underground parking garage shortly after midnight.

Prosecutors allege Zameer caused Northrup’s death by making a series of manoeuvres with his car while officers were nearby.

The defence, meanwhile, says the officer’s death was a tragic accident but not a crime. They argue neither Zameer nor his wife knew Northrup and his partner, who were in plain clothes, were police officers.

Court has heard the officers were among those investigating the stabbing of the man that Zameer and his family saw. They went into the parking garage to look for evidence. Jurors have been told Zameer was not involved in the stabbing.

Earlier Tuesday, jurors heard from a crash reconstructionist called as an expert witness by the defence.

Barry Raftery was cross-examined by prosecutors on his conclusions regarding the movements of Zameer’s car, Northrup’s position and the location of impact.

Although security cameras did not capture everything that night, Raftery previously said the existing video and physical evidence allowed him to chart the car’s path and narrow down the areas where Northrup would have been at certain key moments.

Raftery testified Monday that evidence from the scene and Zameer’s car indicates Northrup was knocked off balance by a “glancing” contact while the car was reversing, and was already on the ground when he was run over by it travelling forward.

He pointed to a disturbance in the dust on the front fender as evidence of that glancing contact, and said the absence of damage to the fender and hood show Northrup wasn’t run over while standing.

Court has heard Northrup was more than six feet tall and weighed close to 300 pounds.

A crash reconstruction expert called by the Crown previously testified he concluded Northrup had been knocked to the ground by the car while it was reversing and was run over.

On Tuesday, the prosecution questioned Raftery about the mark in the dust on the fender, suggesting it could have been made by at least two other people – including Zameer – and there was no way to know when it was formed.

Raftery agreed but said the “most reasonable inference” is that it was the result of Northrup being sideswiped by Zameer’s car.

Crown prosecutor Michael Cantlon suggested Northrup may not have fallen after the contact and may instead have regained his footing, but Raftery rejected that suggestion.

“We know he ended up on the ground,” he said, because an object believed to be Northrup’s body can be seen on the ground in front of the car on security video. At no other point can Northrup be seen on the video, he noted.

Cantlon also asked if Northrup may have been able to get back up if he was knocked to the ground, but Raftery said it would be unfair to expect anyone to be able to get up in the two to three seconds between the contact with the fender and the moment the officer was run over.

The video has a partially obstructed view of the car as it first moved forward in a parking spot, then reversed out of it, and finally straightened out and drove forward in the laneway toward the exit.

The trial is set to resume Thursday. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 9, 2024.

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