The man charged with first-degree murder in the death of Calgary police Sgt. Andrew Harnett offered to plead guilty to manslaughter before his trial got underway Monday, a proposal rejected by the prosecution.
Harnett was killed during a traffic stop on New Year’s Eve 2020 after an SUV he’d pulled over took off with the officer hanging onto the driver’s side of the vehicle.
The accused was 17 years old at the time of the incident and can not be named under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
Lawyers for the young man will not dispute he was driving when Harnett was killed. But Bob Aloneissi and Zachary Al Khatib will argue their client’s actions do not meet the test for murder.
The passenger at the time of Harnett’s death was Amir Abdulrahmen, 20, who pleaded guilty last month to a lesser charge of manslaughter.
On Friday he was handed a five-year sentence.
Harnett, 37, was dragged for nearly half a mile before he fell away from the vehicle and into the path of an oncoming car.
If the accused is convicted, prosecutor Mike Ewenson has indicated he will apply to have the driver sentenced as an adult.
‘A few hundred dollars was his jeopardy’
The driver was about to be handed two traffic tickets when he took off with Harnett attached to the SUV,
“A few hundred dollars was his jeopardy at that time,” Ewenson said in his opening statement presented to Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Anna Loparco.
“[The accused’s] actions meet the test for murder. “
In a rare move, the defense asked to make a brief statement to counter the Crown’s position and reiterate that an opening statement is not evidence.
“Reasonable people can see things differently,” Aloneissi said. “The real question here is what does all this mean legally.”
‘I have a learner’s’
Harnett pulled the Infinity SUV over just before 11pm on New Year’s Eve 2020 because the vehicle’s lights were off.
“I have a learner’s actually, my buddy here has his license,” the teen told Harnett, according to the officer’s body-worn camera footage played in court Monday.
The traffic stop lasted about 30 minutes.
At the time, the driver did not have a valid license and did not have any identification on him, so Harnett took several steps to confirm his identity.
In the course of that investigation, Harnett learned the passenger had warrants out for his arrest.
After the arrival of backup, the plan was for Harnett to ticket the driver and for his colleagues to arrest the passenger.
Officers tried to save Harnett’s life
As Harnett stood at the driver’s side window to present the two traffic tickets, the SUV took off with the officer clinging to the side.
Footage from Harnett’s two colleagues who’d arrived on-scene to provide backup was also played.
When the SUV took off, the two officers sprinted after it. They then backtracked to get to their police car and sped after the fleeing vehicle.
In the meantime, the driver “did everything he could from that driver’s seat to eject Sgt. Harnett into the roadway,” said Ewenson.
Within seconds, the officer’s body-worn camera footage shows they came across their colleague laying in the middle of the road, surrounded by blood.
Police should not cling to fleeing cars, defense suggests
One officer knelt beside Harnett, and began trying to save his life, while the other called for help.
The Crown’s first witness, Det. Scott Gutterson, was called out to the scene the night of Harnett’s death.
Through Gutterson, several videos from the fatal interaction were played including the three responding officers’ body worn cameras, as well as CCTV footage from neighboring businesses.
During cross-examination by Aloneissi, Gutterson acknowledged that the accused was polite and forthcoming in his first interactions with Harnett.
Aloneissi suggested it was not safe or covered by CPS policy for an officer to “latch” onto the side of a fleeing vehicle.
“That depends on the situation and risk perceived by the officer standing at the side of the vehicle,” said Gutterson.
Aloneissi also suggested traffic tickets could have been issued by sending through the mail.
“I believe so,” said the detective.
In the weeks after Harnett’s death, police issued a media release, asking the public for help identifying a third man who was in the back seat of the SUV when it was pulled over by police.
Though CPS has never publicly identified that man, Gutterson said several tips came in that led to one person.
Gutterson says he believes he knows the identity of that passenger.
But when interviewed, the man denied being in the SUV at the time.
Cellphone tower data showed the man was in the area of the traffic stop but he also happens to live nearby.
At 10:55 pm on New Year’s Eve, just moments after Harnett was killed, a phone call was made from that man’s cell to an address on Tarington Close in the northeast, the same cul-de-sac where the Infinity was discovered after Harnett’s death.
“I found it very, very coincidental that this person, who I think is probably the rear occupant, makes a call right after Sgt. Harnett’s murder to the same cul-de-sac where the vehicle was ditched,” said Gutterson.