Criminal lawyers weigh in on how jury could rule in trial of man accused of running over Toronto cop

The jury in the trial of Umar Zameer could begin deliberations this week as the Crown and Defense are set for closing arguments. Erica Natividad speaks to experts about the potential outcomes.

By Erica Natividad

The jury in the trial of Umar Zameer could begin deliberations this week as the Crown and Defense are set for closing arguments.

Zameer is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Detective Constable Jeffrey Northrup. The officer died after he was hit by a vehicle in a parking garage underneath Toronto City Hall on July 2, 2021.

Criminal defence lawyer, Joseph Neuberger, is not involved in the Zameer case but has been following the trial and has given some insight about what the jury decides.

“The crown has to establish to the jury beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Zameer knew that the individuals who had approached his car were police officers,” explained Neuberger. “And thereby his actions at that time that caused his death were also intentional … I think that’s an extremely high hurdle for the Crown to establish.”

The court has previously heard that Const. Northrup and his partner — both dressed in plain clothes — were investigating a stabbing when they went into the underground garage. Zameer was not involved in the stabbing.

Crown prosecutors allege Zameer chose to make a series of maneuvers with his car that caused Const. 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.

Neuberger said it is possible the jury could come back with a verdict on a lesser, included offence, one being second-degree murder.

“The jury would have to be left [beyond] a reasonable doubt that Mr. Zameer did not know they were police officers but intended to kill a person on the night in question,” explained Neuberger. “I find that incongruent with the evidence and incongruent with the theory of the Crown. Although that may be left to the jury as part of the series of offenses that may be included, I just don’t think that is a plausible verdict available to the jury.”

Manslaughter would be another option, Neuberger said. “That he did not know that the officer was indeed a police officer but that his actions knowing that there were people in front of him or behind him did likely cause harm and somebody died.”

Another possibility: acquittal.

“I think one of the really difficult things here for the crown attorney is there’s no real good explanation why Mr. Zameer would intentionally strike a police officer with his car,” said another criminal defence lawyer, Daniel Brown.

“He’s always said he didn’t know they were police. He thought he was being robbed. He thought him and his family were in danger. He had his wife who was pregnant and his young child in the car. And he wasn’t up to no good. He was an accountant with no criminal history, not committing any crime,” explained Brown.

“So why wouldn’t he have stopped for the police if he knew the police were trying to speak to him? And so this theory of this case makes a lot more sense than the Crown’s theory of the case that he knew they were a police and he tried to hit them anyway.”

Throughout the trial, the jury has heard vastly different depictions of what happened that night in July 2021. Three police officers provided eyewitness testimony claiming that Detective Constable Jeffrey Northrup was standing with his hands up the moment before he was fatally struck.

But collision reconstruction experts, one with Toronto police and another for the defence, have refuted that evidence, testifying that Northrup would have fallen to the ground before he was fatally run over.  

Northrup’s partner, Lisa Forbes, told court she identified herself multiple times to Zameer and held out her badge. Zameer testified that he did not know they were police officers and didn’t see any badges.

“I think in these facts, it’s fairly clear, including his spontaneous utterances right after his arrest, that he wasn’t aware that they were police officers, that he thought they were being robbed, and he was in fear and trying to flee for the safety of his family, that really this is a situation where it’s a tragic accident,” said Neuberger.

The jury is expected to hear closing statements from the Crown and defence on Tuesday.

With files from The Canadian Press

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