Teen found guilty of manslaughter in Calgary officer’s hit-and-run death

The teen driver who dragged Calgary police officer Sergeant Andrew Harnett into an oncoming car on New Year's Eve in 2020, leaving the officer dead has been found guilty of manslaughter instead of first-degree murder.

By Alejandro Melgar and The Canadian Press

A judge has found a teen involved in the hit-and-run death of a Calgary officer guilty of manslaughter in a 70-page decision Thursday.

Sgt. Andrew Harnett died in hospital on Dec. 31, 2020, after being dragged on the road by an SUV and hit by an oncoming vehicle.

The driver, who cannot be named due to being 17 at the time, testified that he was scared when Harnett and another officer approached the vehicle at a traffic stop. He says Harnett put his hand on his gun.

Crown attorney Michael Ewenson has said the evidence shows there’s no doubt the teen, who is now 19, meant to cause harm to Harnett.

The accused’s lawyer, Zachary Al-Khatib, argued that his client was guilty of manslaughter, but not-first degree murder.

Justice Anna Loparco agreed but also said that although the accused had “outright lied” about the gun, he was in a “panicked state” when he decided to flee and unable to know his actions would cause Harnett’s death.

“I had to be almost certain that the accused person, standing in his shoes, with all his life experiences, knew his actions were likely to cause Sgt. Harnett’s death,” said Loparco.

“I have not found this to be the case.”

Loparco also said that Harnett’s behaviour was “exemplary” and “professional” and there was nothing to suggest that he posed a threat to the driver.

“There’s no doubt he (the accused) should have realized it was likely to cause death,” Loparco said Thursday.

“In law, more is required than proof the accused is probably guilty. A finding of first-degree murder, in this case, is a high bar to meet,” she added.

“It cannot be achieved through a retrospective lens by what a person ought to have known in light of the horrific consequences that occurred.”

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Allan Hunter was a police chairman in Airdrie and on the city council for seven years, which was where he got to know and befriend Harnett.

He says he was “flabbergasted” by the court decision.

“We do not have a justice system in Canada, we have a legal system,” Hunter said.

“Once again, another officer has given his life, and he served with the military police with the honour he served in this case. The evidence heard he served with honour. He did everything right, and it cost him his life.”

Hunter says he couldn’t believe the judge’s decision regarding maturity in this case.

“I’ve got family members that went to war for this country at 16 years old and came home badly damaged, but never ever put police officers in harm’s way,” Hunter said.

Allan Hunter poses for a photo in front of the Calgary Courts Centre in Calgary

Allan Hunter poses for a photo in front of the Calgary Courts Centre in Calgary on Nov. 10, 2022. (Nick Blakeney, CityNews photo)

Crown prosecutor Ewenson says he was “disappointed” in the decision.

“As a prosecutor, you just want a fair and thorough hearing, and I think the Justice gave us that,” Ewenson said.

“All the evidence that we had went before the court and was considered by the court, but this was an emotional trial for everybody.”

While the facts were presented to the court, Ewenson says the difficulty in rendering a decision was figuring out the “intent of the accused,” acknowledging that any reasonable doubt favours the defendant.

“I think it’s fair to say that the intent of the accused and fleeing the traffic stop was only ever at that time to flee the traffic stop and leave the officers behind. Of course, we made the argument that once the flight occurred, and Sgt. Harnett was still involved with the vehicle, his intent crystallized at that point, but it required the justice to look at the facts,” Ewenson said.

“Because the accused never said anything or verbalized anything, she would have to make a determination as to what subjectively his intent was.”

Loparco said her decision will not give any solace to the family and friends of Harnett. She said the accused committed one of the most serious offences in the Criminal Code.

“I know that this has been a difficult and emotional trial for all involved. A grieving family had to revisit testimony concerning the tragic events of Dec. 31, 2020, for a second time,” Loparco said.

“A young person stood in jeopardy of being convicted of murder in the first degree. No one has left the courtroom unscathed.”

The passenger in the vehicle, Amir Abdulrahman, was earlier sentenced to five years in prison after pleading guilty to manslaughter.

Sentencing will take place in the new year. A pre-sentence report has been ordered and the matter is to return to court Jan. 13.

The Crown says it will be seeking an adult sentence.

-With files from Nick Blakeney

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