CALGARY — A Calgary teen charged with first-degree murder in the death of a police officer in a hit and run testified Tuesday he feared for his life when he took off in his vehicle with Sgt. Andrew Harnett holding on.
Harnett of the Calgary Police Service died in hospital on Dec. 31, 2020, after being dragged by a fleeing SUV and falling into the path of an oncoming car.
The suspect vehicle's alleged driver was 17 at the time. He turned 19 in January, but cannot be identified under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
The accused took the witness stand in his own defence, describing an abusive childhood where his family moved 10 times over a decade between Montreal, Toronto and Calgary to get away from his birth father.
He said he, his mother and two older siblings lived mostly in homeless shelters during that time.
In his testimony, he described planning to go to a New Year's Eve party on the day of Harnett's death.
The vehicle was pulled over because it didn't have its lights on, court heard.
As the traffic stop continued and a second police car arrived, the youth said his anxiety level began to rise. When another officer and Harnett approached the vehicle, the accused said he panicked.
"I observed Sgt. Harnett had his hand on his gun and as soon as I seen that, I took off. I was scared. My anxiety was through the roof at that time," he said.
"I thought something bad was going to happen. I thought just the fact 'why would he have his hand on his gun?' I took off. I panicked. I was scared."
The teen described how Harnett leaned inside the car, holding on to the steering wheel and punching him in the head all the while yelling to "stop the car."
"The officer grabs onto my hair and starts punching. I'm getting punched and I'm getting punched. As I try to back away my foot hits the accelerator," he testified.
"It was chaotic, honestly. People are screaming. I feel I have no control. I'm thinking 'I'm done. I'm going to get dragged out and get killed or seriously injured.' I was trying to protect myself at this point."
The accused, wearing glasses with his hair pulled back in a ponytail, choked back tears several times during two hours of testimony.
He said he didn't even notice when Harnett fell away from the car window and immediately drove home to his basement suite.
"I just kept on driving. Honestly, I was thinking about myself, quite frankly. I wasn't thinking about the officer," he testified.
"I didn't think anything happened to him. I didn't think about him."
The teen said he decided to turn himself in after learning that Harnett had been killed. He said he regrets his actions and can only say he is sorry.
"I'm in jail for this. It's not easy. I feel like people sometimes look at me as a monster. I'm not a monster. I'm sorry for the situation," he said.
"For the rest of my life, I'm going to be known as someone who killed a police officer. No matter what happens. This is it."
The Crown is expected to cross-examine the accused on Wednesday, with closing arguments scheduled for Thursday.
Amir Abdulrahman, 20, a passenger in the vehicle, pleaded guilty last December to a lesser charge of manslaughter and was sentenced to five years in prison.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 27, 2022.
Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press