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Man accused of running over Toronto police officer apologizes in court


A man accused of running over a Toronto police officer nearly three years ago offered a tearful apology to the man's family in court Thursday, saying he didn't mean to hurt the officer and wished he could bring him back.

Umar Zameer – who testified he thought his family was about to be robbed at the time – told a packed courtroom he cannot stop thinking about the day Det. Const. Jeffrey Northrup died, and how things would have played out differently if he and his family had returned to their car just a few minutes earlier or later.

“I just wish it didn’t happen,” he said.

Zameer, a father of three, said he can't imagine the grief felt by Northrup's children.

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

Zameer has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in Northrup's death. The officer died after he was hit by a vehicle in an underground parking garage on July 2, 2021.

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 – who was eight months pregnant at the time – knew that the people who approached them in the largely empty parking garage were police officers. Their two-year-old son was also with them at the time.

On the stand Thursday, Zameer described getting in the family's BMW and seeing an unknown man and a woman rush towards the car. He said he didn't see them properly, but both of them were wearing shorts.

Zameer said the pair didn't say anything, nor did he see anything in their hands. "They did not say 'police,'" he noted. As they approached, the woman pointed at the hood, and Zameer said he assumed she was asking him to turn off the engine.

Zameer thought he and his family were about to be robbed, he said.

Soon after, the woman knocked on the window and pointed down again, which Zameer said he thought could mean that she wanted him to open the door or roll down the window. Instead, he locked the doors, he said.

Immediately, the pair started banging on the car, causing Zameer's son to start crying, he said. Zameer said he wanted to get out of there, so he drove forward into the empty parking spot in front, heading towards the laneway.

That's when a dark grey van with tinted windows blocked their path, and Zameer hit the brakes to avoid a collision, he said.

"When I saw the van, I was shocked … I was so scared," he said, adding he thought they were being attacked by a "gang" of unknown size.

The two people outside were still banging on the car, screaming at them to stop and get out, he said. Inside the car, Zameer said his wife was hyperventilating to the point where she couldn't say his name properly and he thought she had gone into labour. Their son was still crying in distress, he said.

Zameer broke down in tears in court as he recalled turning around and putting his hand on his son's knees, then looking back to reverse out of the spot.

When he reversed, the banging and the shouting stopped, he said. "I thought I left them there," near the van, he said about the people outside the car.

Once in the laneway, Zameer started driving forward towards the exit, accelerating to get away, he said. He saw nothing in front of the car and didn't hear anything, he said. “I only heard (my son) crying … there was no other sound,” he said.

He noticed going over what he thought was a speed bump, he said.

As he drove towards the exit, he told his wife to call the police, he said. They stopped behind another car at the exit gate and got hit from behind, he said.

At his window, Zameer saw a man pointing a gun at him and yelling to get out, he said. Zameer said he thought the man would shoot him if he didn't comply, so he got out of the car, adding he was so scared he urinated in his pants.

He got on the ground and one of the men cuffed his hands behind his back, he recalled. The man told him to get up, but it was hard with his hands cuffed, he said.

At that point, another man punched him in the face and told Zameer they had run over his partner, he said. Zameer replied that he hadn't run over anyone, he testified. The man told him they were police, and Zameer said he told him they hadn't known that.

The officer pointed at Zameer's car and said, "that's the brains of my partner," he recalled. When Zameer saw the blood on his car, that's when he realized what he'd thought was a speed bump had in fact been a man – and a police officer.

He described feeling "horrified" and said he asked if the officer would be OK. He recalled praying the man would be OK as he was taken to the police station, and recalled his shock at hearing the man had died.

In cross-examining Zameer, Crown prosecutor Karen Simone suggested Zameer saw the badge worn by Northrup's partner, Det. Const. Lisa Forbes, and that both officers identified themselves as police as they approached the car.

Zameer maintained he never saw a badge and the two never identified themselves as police.

"I didn’t do anything wrong … if I heard that why wouldn’t I stop?" he replied.

Simone also suggested that Northrup, who was both tall and large, was visible to Zameer at all times, but Zameer said he last recalled seeing Northrup when the pair were at the driver side window and banging on the car.

When the car moved forward, he assumed they were still there because the banging continued, he said. When he reversed, he was sure the two stayed by the van that had appeared because the banging stopped, but he didn't actually see them, he testified.

Zameer said he didn't see anyone behind or in front of the car when he was driving. “I looked back, he wasn’t there. I looked (to the) front, he wasn’t there,” he said.

The Crown suggested Zameer accelerated in driving away because he knew he'd hit a person, but Zameer said he did so because he wanted to save his family.

Two crash reconstruction experts, one called by the Crown and one by the defence, have testified they concluded Northrup was knocked to the ground by the car reversing and was still on the ground when he was run over.

The expert called by the defence further testified that Northrup would not have been visible to Zameer when he was on the ground because he was in the car's blind zone. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 11, 2024. Top Stories

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