CALGARY — A man accused in the hit-and-run death of a police officer pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder Monday, but the Crown rejected his offer to admit to manslaughter instead.
The man, who cannot be identified under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, is alleged to have been driving an SUV that Sgt. Andrew Harnett pulled over on Dec. 31, 2020.
Police have said the 37-year-old officer was dragged before he fell away from the SUV and was hit by another car.
The alleged driver, who was 17 when he was charged, turned 19 in early January.
Prosecutor Mike Ewenson told the judge-alone trial that the Crown intends to pursue the charge of first-degree murder.
In his opening statement, Ewenson said there's no doubt about what happened, and that Harnett acted professionally when he pulled over the SUV.
"In this day and age, when the actions of police are subject to increased scrutiny, you will witness an encounter between Sgt. Harnett and the young person, which until the moment that Sgt. Harnett's life was truly at risk, there is no profanity used, no raised voices, no use of force, no insult, no abuse of power or misuse of authority."
Ewenson said it should have been a routine traffic stop.
"The young person was only going to be given a couple of traffic tickets. That was it. A few hundred dollars was his jeopardy at that time."
He said Harnett activated his body camera and the court will see that the accused was so determined to flee that he dragged the officer for nearly a half kilometre.
"The young person engaged in these actions with Sgt. Harnett hanging on to his vehicle on the driver's side door, mere feet from the young person, yelling for the young person to stop. But the young person did not stop. He did the opposite."
Defence lawyer Bob Aloneissi told court the facts are not in dispute.
"It's important to recognize that reasonable people can look at an incident and see things differently and agree to disagree," he said.
"The real question is going to be: what does this all mean legally? And evidenced by the guilty plea that was tendered earlier, the dispute is really going to be the characterization of this in law."
Several videos were played in court, including one in which Harnett is seen grappling with the driver of the SUV as it speeds away. Harnett yells, "Stop! Stop the car now!"
Body-cam videos from two officers at the scene also show the SUV taking off. The officers run after it before going back to their cars to continue their pursuit. They then find Harnett's body.
"He's on the ground! He's on the ground!" one officer yells before an ambulance is called.
Const. Dennis Vink, a collision reconstruction expert, testified that the SUV reached 97 km/h before Harnett fell on the road. An image of its speedometer was captured on his body camera.
Harnett fell into the path of a Toyota Corolla, said Vink, and there was nothing that car's driver could have done.
"My analysis of all the evidence is the driver of the Toyota was in a situation where he could not have avoided striking Sgt. Harnett," Vink said.
A passenger in the SUV, Amir Abdulrahmen, 20, pleaded guilty last month to a lesser charge of manslaughter. He was sentenced Friday to five years in prison.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 31, 2022.
Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press