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'It's just so hard to let it go': Umar Zameer still haunted by death of Toronto police officer

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“It's just so hard to let it go. I mean, everyone is telling me, ‘you have to move on,’ but I know someone is just not here [anymore]. So I don't know how I will move on."

That’s what Umar Zameer, the man recently acquitted in the death of a Toronto police officer, told CTV News Toronto in a sit-down interview on Tuesday.

A jury found the 34-year-old accountant not guilty on Sunday following a weeks-long trial that looked at the events of July 2, 2021, when Toronto Police Det. Const. Jeffrey Northrup was run over by Zameer in the underground parking garage of Nathan Phillips Square shortly after midnight. Northrup was transported to hospital where he died.

'A nightmare'

“That night was a nightmare for us. And I don't know when it will go away. But that night and then the days forward and then the years, I don't know how long it will haunt us,” he said.

Zameer had pleaded not guilty to the charge of first-degree murder laid in connection with the incident.

He was in his car with his pregnant wife and young child following Canada Day celebrations at the downtown square when Northrup and his partner, both in plainclothes at the time, approached his vehicle in the parking garage as they investigated a stabbing in the area. Zameer wasn’t involved in the stabbing and said he didn’t know the pair were police officers.

Northrup’s partner, Det. Const. Lisa Forbes, testified that she had repeatedly identified herself as a police officer and banged on the car and yelled as Zameer started driving. But Zameer told the court that he thought his family was being attacked.

When an unmarked police van blocked Zameer’s path, he reversed, making what two crash reconstruction experts told the court was glancing contact with Northrup, and accelerated forward. Northrup was on the ground when he was run over by Zameer’s vehicle, the experts both testified. Zameer and his wife, who was also present at Tuesday’s interview, told the court they thought they had gone over a speed bump and weren’t aware they had hit Northrup until the unmarked van rammed into his vehicle at the exit gate and he was arrested.

Umar Zameer (left) and his wife Aaida Shaikh, speak to CTV News Toronto on April 23, 2024.

Zameer's wife 'shocked' by police comments

Zameer’s wife, Aaida Shaikh, recalled speaking to police after the incident and said that she hoped her statements would help to add clarity to the situation. But, she said that she was shocked when then-Toronto police chief James Ramer told reporters that Northrup’s death was “deliberate” hours later.

“I was in shock because I just told them everything. How come they are saying the complete opposite? I was just shocked. Confused. Betrayed. Because the police are there to help us, but unfortunately it was the opposite,” she said.

On top of Ramer’s comments, Ontario Premier Doug Ford and then Toronto mayor John Tory also weighed in on the case, with the former calling Zameer’s bail release two months after the incident “completely unacceptable.”

On Tuesday, in some of his first comments on the case since then, Ford said he respected the court’s decision.

  • Watch the full interview in the player above

“It's a very sad situation that happened...my heart goes out to Margaret and her family as well,” he said, referring to Northrup's widow.

“At that time I had limited information. The courts have decided, the jury decided and you have to respect the justice system.”

Toronto Police Chief Myron Demkiw has also clarified his stance on the case, after saying he had hoped for "a different outcome" following news of the acquittal.

“Let me be crystal clear: I support and accept the verdict of the jury,” Demkiw said at a news conference at Toronto police headquarters earlier on Tuesday. “I have always been a supporter of the justice process, including all elements of the system that leads us towards justice.”

A day earlier, Demkiw announced that he had ordered the Ontario Provincial Police to conduct an “independent review” after Superior Court Justice Anne Molloy raised concerns about the reliability of officer testimony in the trial. Molloy had previously told jurors that the officers’ testimony that was at the centre of the case didn’t match the physical evidence and advised them to watch out for possible collusion.

“My deepest apologies for what you've been through,” she told Zameer before leaving the courtroom Sunday after the verdict was delivered. 

Zameer, family sold property to cover legal expenses

Zameer said the financial impacts of the case have been immense and that he and members of his family sold properties to cover the cost of his $335,000 bail and ongoing legal expenses.

“Financially, I can't even start,” he said, wondering what he would have done without the support of his family members.

Toronto Police officers and Toronto City Hall corporate security stand at the entrance to Toronto City Hall's parking garage where a Toronto Police officer was killed in the morning hours of Friday, July 2, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston

“What would I have done if I didn't have these people? If, God forbid, anything like this happened to anyone else and doesn’t have the family. What would they have done?” he asked.

A GoFundMe campaign launched by Shaikh in 2021 has since raised more than $211K, with the bulk of the donations coming in after the acquittal.

Zameer has said it’s too early to say if he’s considering a lawsuit against police or the Crown.

Zameer told his kids he was working on a 'big project' during trial

A father of three, Zameer said he told his children he had been working on a “big project” when the trial started to shield them from the reality of the high-stakes legal battle he was fighting.

After the not guilty verdict was delivered, Zameer said he told one of his children he had “won” the project.

“The first thing he asked was, ‘Can you take me out now?’ Because all these three years, I wasn't able to pick him up,” Zameer said, referring to the conditions of his bail, which required him to remain home at all times.

Shaikh said she and her husband had “hoped” for the day Zameer would be cleared of the first-degree murder charge so that his relationship with his children could return to normal, but worried if the day would ever come.

“You can’t explain to kids why baba can’t walk out of the house with you. Why he can’t go swimming with you,” she said. “You know, those little things matter. And now, we're also like sort of stuck. Like we forgot how to live.”

Asked if he thinks he is owed an apology in the wake of Sunday’s decision, Zameer said he and his wife just want to “move on” and spend time with their kids.

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