Umar Zameer found not guilty of murder in Toronto cop's death

Umar Zameer, left, with his defence lawyer Nader Hasan, walking into court in downtown Toronto on Tue. April 2, 2024. (Paul Smith/CBC - image credit)
Umar Zameer, left, with his defence lawyer Nader Hasan, walking into court in downtown Toronto on Tue. April 2, 2024. (Paul Smith/CBC - image credit)

Jurors have found Umar Zameer not guilty of all criminal charges, including first-degree murder, in the death of Toronto police officer Det.-Const. Jeffrey Northrup nearly three years ago.

Zameer had pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, after he ran over Northrup with his car in an underground parking garage beneath Toronto City Hall on July 2, 2021. Both Northrup and his partner were in plain clothes, investigating a stabbing that night.

The verdict means the Crown did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Zameer intended to kill Northrup, as is required for both a first-degree and lesser second-degree murder conviction.

After the verdict was read, the judge apologized to Zameer for everything he has been through during the last three years.

"You are now free," Ontario Superior Court Justice Anne Molloy said.

The jury also found Zameer not guilty of manslaughter caused by dangerous driving. For a manslaughter conviction, a person must be found guilty of committing an unlawful act that caused death, without having the intent to kill.

Jury deliberations began Thursday evening, after a five-week trial during which Zameer testified that he didn't know Northrup and his partner were police, instead thinking his family was being ambushed by criminals.

Officers' testimony contradicted by experts during trial

The two officers approached his car in the parking garage around midnight, where Zameer was with his eight-months pregnant wife and two-year-old son. The young family was preparing to return to their Vaughan, Ont., home after celebrating Canada Day downtown.

Zameer said neither Northrup nor his partner – Sgt. Lisa Forbes – identified themselves as police that night. He said the pair began banging on his car after he locked the doors.

When Zameer tried to drive forward out of the parking space, he was blocked by an unmarked police van. He then reversed out of the spot at an accelerated speed and drove forward to exit the parking garage.

During the trial, two crash reconstructionist experts called by the defence and the Crown agreed Northrup was knocked down when Zameer reversed out of the parking spot.

The 31-year veteran of the Toronto Police Service was already on the ground in the laneway of the car when he was run over, the experts said.

However, three police officers testified that Northrup was standing in the laneway with his hands up when he was run over.

Judge questioned Crown's 'morphing' theory 

Several times during the trial, the presiding judge questioned the Crown's changing theory about what happened on July 2, 2021, at one point saying she didn't see how the jury could convict Zameer of even the lesser second-degree murder charge.

During legal arguments not heard by the jury, Ontario Superior Court Justice Anne Molloy repeatedly raised concerns about the prosecution's changing narrative about where and how Northrup was struck.

Prosecutors Michael Cantlon and Karen Simone raised new theories after all their evidence had been presented to the jury, including some that were not brought up during their own crash reconstructionist expert's testimony.

One such theory — that Northrup was "clearly visible" to Zameer when he was hit regardless of his position, which itself is in dispute — was abandoned only days before lawyers made their final arguments to the jury, after Molloy said she was struggling to understand it.

The Crown's position "keeps morphing," the judge said Monday during legal arguments over her instructions to the jury.

Arguments and evidence discussed in the absence of the jury cannot be published until the jury is sequestered for deliberations.

Earlier in the trial, after the Crown finished presenting its evidence and while the jury was absent, Molloy noted the discrepancy between the testimony of police officers who said Northrup was standing up when he was run over, and that of the prosecution's expert.

Molloy pointed out another expert was set to give a similar opinion, that Northrup had already been knocked to the ground by Zameer's car when he was run over, as part of the defence's case.

The judge also referred to security footage, shown to jurors, in which an unidentified object believed to be Northrup appears on the ground in front of the car as it is driving forward.

"Let's just be blunt — I don't see how they can get to second-degree murder on this evidence because of the expert report and video," Molloy said.