Young man convicted in officer's hit-and-run death influenced by peers: psychologist

·2 min read

CALGARY — A forensic psychologist testified Friday that a young man convicted in the hit-and-run death of a Calgary police officer is at a high risk to reoffend if he's sent to a federal penitentiary.

The young offender, who was 17 at the time, was convicted of manslaughter in the death of Sgt. Andrew Harnett on Dec. 31, 2020.

Harnett died after being dragged by an SUV, then falling into the path of an oncoming car.

The Crown wants the driver of the SUV, who is now 20, sentenced as an adult and serve between 11 and 13 years in prison.

Liam Ennis, who is an expert in the field of violence risk management and management, was called as a witness by the defence.

Ennis said there are many factors that can lead to recidivism, including a difficult childhood. He noted that the offender's family fled from his abusive father when he was younger, moving from shelter-to-shelter in several provinces.

"It was turbulent. It was ruthless, I would say," Ennis said. "A person would get a risk point growing up in a home where one of the biological parents wasn't present."

He said the young man had a history of wanting to belong and being unduly influenced by peer pressure, which began in his teens.

"He wants to be part of the gang but he's not. He is rejected and then around age 13 or so he finds his tribe," he said.

"Unfortunately, the people he finds are already criminally inclined. They are delinquent."

Ennis said the offender, who has been spending time in a youth offender centre, has shown some improvement in behaviour.

"He is now getting his bucket filled in terms of his self-esteem by pleasing the staff at the facility more so than he is pandering to his peers," Ennis said.

"It affirms, at least on the surface, that he is heavily influenced by the social influences around him."

Ennis said the convicted young man needs education and work skills that will allow him to carve out a place for himself in conventional society so he can be in a workplace surrounded by people "who are not out doing snatch-and-grab crimes on the weekend, who are not going out and involving themselves in criminal activities."

He worries that if he is sentenced to a federal institution, he will revert to his previous behaviour and fall in with the wrong crowd.

"My risk assessment says that he is at high risk for future offending. The question is what's the most likely path to lowering that," Ennis added.

"I have a hard time seeing hope of positive change if he goes through the adult penitentiary system."

A decision on whether the young man will face an adult sentence is expected May 10.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 28, 2023.

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press