Victim's family 'gutted' as teen who killed Calgary police officer guilty of manslaughter not murder

Sgt. Andrew Harnett, 37, was killed on New Year's Eve 2020 during a traffic stop.  (Calgary Police Service - image credit)
Sgt. Andrew Harnett, 37, was killed on New Year's Eve 2020 during a traffic stop. (Calgary Police Service - image credit)

The teenager who was driving the night Calgary police Sgt. Andrew Harnett was killed as an SUV fled a traffic stop has been found not guilty of first-degree murder but guilty of the lesser offence of manslaughter.

The now 19-year-old cannot be named under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

Harnett's family, who watched the verdict Thursday over video link from Ontario, said they've been left angry and frustrated.

"We left feeling really defeated, we left feeling gutted, stunned," said Jason Harnett. "It's a difficult day."

'Probably guilty requires an acquittal'

Court of King's Bench Justice Anna Loparco said she was left with reasonable doubt as to whether the accused had the intent for murder.

"A belief that the accused is probably guilty requires an acquittal," said Loparco in delivering her 2½-hour decision Thursday afternoon.

Loparco rejected the accused's testimony, labelling it "untruthful," "self-serving," "evasive" and much of it "fabricated."

However, she said "in light of his youth and inexperience, he may not have been thinking rationally."

'Not the verdict we were hoping for'

The judge said she was "unable to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused's mind was not overtaken by panic and chaos."

"He may not have turned his mind to the likely deadly fate of Sgt. Harnett," said Loparco.

The Calgary Police Service issued a statement calling Thursday's verdict "difficult" for its members as well as those close to Harnett.

"This was obviously not the verdict we were hoping for," said Chief Mark Neufeld. "Nothing, however, that could have happened today would have changed the fact we have lost a friend, a colleague, a leader, and, more importantly, Andrew's loved ones have lost a spouse, a brother and son."

'Chaos' that night

"We are confident that the solid case brought to the court will withstand the test of further judicial review," said CPS in its written statement.

In reviewing the facts of the case, the judge noted the "chaos" of the incident several times in speaking about New Year's Eve 2020.

That night, the teen was behind the wheel of an SUV which took off during a traffic stop with Harnett clinging to the driver's side door.

Harnett was dragged 400 metres before he lost his grip and was flung into oncoming traffic on Falconridge Boulevard in the northeast.

The 37-year-old left behind a pregnant wife who gave birth to a son months after Harnett's death.

Chelsea Goedhart has described living with "soul-crushing grief" as she experienced her pregnancy and parenthood without her partner.

Harnett was a decorated officer with two Chief's Awards for lifesaving during his 12-year career with the Calgary Police Service.

Jason Harnett said the evidence at trial reaffirmed his brother's commitment to the job.

"This entire process has demonstrated how well Andrew did his job, how well documented this was on body-cam footage."

Manslaughter plea offered

On the first day of his trial in January, the teen offered to plead guilty to manslaughter. The offer was rejected by the Crown and the trial went ahead.

The teen testified in his own defence, telling the judge he panicked and felt he'd been targeted because of his race.

But prosecutor Mike Ewenson said officers' body worn camera videos played in court show the teen was relaxed and called parts of the accused's testimony "concocted."

The judge agreed.

During the traffic stop, two colleagues arrived for back-up. Body-worn camera video from all three was played during the trial.

SUV reached speeds of 100km/h

The night of the officer's death, Harnett pulled over the Infinity SUV because its lights weren't on.

The three people inside the Inifinity SUV — one passenger has never been identified — were on their way to a house party at the time.

In the course of his investigation, Harnett learned the passenger, Amir Abdulrahman, was wanted on outstanding warrants.

Harnett and his colleagues were in the course of arresting Abdulrahman and ticketing the teenage driver when the accused took off with Harnett clinging to the speeding vehicle.

While fleeing, the driver tried several times to push Harnett off the side of the SUV.

About 400 metres later and as the SUV reached speeds of up to 100km/h, Harnett lost his grip on the driver's side door and fell into the path of an oncoming car.

Harnett's colleagues quickly arrived at his side. Const. Josh Desroches lay beside the injured officer, held his head and talked to him.

"Don't move, hold tight, we're here," Desroches said to Harnett.