Driver found guilty of manslaughter in hit-and-run death of Calgary police officer

CALGARY — A judge has found a young man involved in the hit-and-run death of a Calgary police officer guilty of manslaughter.

Sgt. Andrew Harnett died in hospital on Dec. 31, 2020, after being dragged by a fleeing SUV and falling into the path of an oncoming car.

The driver of the SUV, who cannot be identified because he was 17 at the time, had testified he was scared when Harnett and another officer approached the vehicle during a traffic stop and he saw Harnett put his hand on his gun.

The accused's lawyer had argued his client was guilty of manslaughter but not first-degree murder.

Justice Anna Loparco agreed, saying that although the accused, who was just a few days shy of his 18th birthday, had "outright lied" about being afraid of 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."

The Crown said it would be seeking an adult sentence.

The judge called Harnett's behaviour throughout the traffic stop both "exemplary" and "professional" and that there was no indication he posed a threat to the driver before he took off with Harnett clinging to the side of the SUV.

"There's no doubt (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."

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.

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.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 10, 2022.

The Canadian Press