Man pleads guilty to manslaughter in hit-and-run that dragged Calgary officer 437 metres
It was an emotional day in court on Wednesday when one of two men charged in the death of a Calgary Police Service (CPS) officer pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter.
Amir Abdulrahman was the passenger in an SUV that Sgt. Andrew Harnett had stopped in the community of Falconridge on Dec. 31, 2020 after noticing its licence plate didn’t match its registration.
The vehicle took off, dragging 37-year-old Harnett 437 metres before he was thrown from it and into the path of an oncoming car.
Two other officers on scene tried to revive Harnett, but he died about an hour later.
Police say the vehicle was found abandoned and the two accused were arrested shortly after.
'Stop the f-cking vehicle': Bodycam footage offers insight into officer's death
Body-worn camera footage shown in court from Harnett and two other officers on scene show Harnett yelling “stop the vehicle. Stop the f-cking vehicle,” and Abdulrahman leaning over to grab the steering wheel of the vehicle at least twice while the driver fought with Harnett.
According to the agreed statement of facts, Harnett wasn’t attached to the vehicle but was holding on during the struggle.
The victim’s loved ones left the courtroom while the videos were shown.
There were so many people in attendance at Abdulrahman's court appearance on Wednesday that another courtroom was opened where attendees could watch a livestream of the proceedings, including CPS members in uniform.
Abdulrahman was originally charged with first-degree murder, which is automatic in Canada in cases involving the death of an on-duty police officer. However, Abdulrahman plead guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter days before his trial was set to start.
The Crown is seeking eight to 10 years in prison for Abdulrahman, saying he has not shown remorse and Harnett's death has greatly impacted the city and community as a whole.
“He left Sgt. Harnett to die on the cold hard pavement,” said Crown prosecutor Mike Ewenson.
The defence argued two years in prison followed by two years probation is reasonable. Balfour Der said his client wasn’t actually driving the vehicle, doesn’t have a lengthy criminal record and has show remorse.
“Unfortunately he was hanging with the wrong group when this event happened on New Year’s Eve so, it had some bad, bad consequences for him but as we heard in court today he’s seen the error of his ways."
Abdulrahman apologized to Harnett’s family, the CPS and his own family in court.
“If there was a way I could go back in time and undo all of this I would,” he said. “I’m here and I’m scared, but I know this is the right thing to do I have not forgiven myself and I will not be able to for a very long time.”
'You stole the love of my life': Victim’s family addresses Abdulrahman
Harnett’s widow Chelsea Goedhart was pregnant with the couple’s first child at the time of the officer’s death.
In her victim impact statement, Goedhart says she and Harnett were at the “peak of our lives” and had much to look forward to when he was killed.
She described the impacts of losing her husband and also the pain and grief of knowing her son will never meet his father.
“I did not choose to be a single parent. This decision was made by Mr. Abdulrahman,” Goedhart said. “My son’s innocence was taken before he was born."
Harnett’s brother broke down in tears during his statement and his mother described her late son as warm, loving, kind and compassionate.
“I love you forever, and as long as I’m here, you’re very proud mother I’ll be,” she read out loud in honour of her son’s favourite book as child, Love You Forever by Robert Munsch.
Sgt. Andrew Harnett is shown in a handout photo from the Calgary Police Service. (CPS handout)
A colleague and friend, Keegan Metz, called the Abdulrahman's crime callous and ignorant.
“I hope every day in prison is worse than the next,” Keegan Metz said directly to Abdulrahman. “You robbed us of the most honourable man I know.”
Harnett's widow says she is 'deeply disappointed'
Goedhart, Harnett’s widow, released a statement on Wednesday amid Abdulrahman's plea.
In it, the young mother says she is "deeply disappointed" in the "fractured judicial system" that allowed Abdulrahman to plead guilty to a lesser charge.
"However, there is no criminal charge or sentence strong enough to account for the complete devastation and tragedy we have endured, and will continue to deal with for the rest of our lives," Goedhart said.
"Instead, we choose to focus on celebrating the incredible man Andrew was, and the meaningful legacy he leaves behind."
Calgary Police Service says Harnett's loss is felt 'deeply'
On Wednesday, the Calgary Police Service also spoke out about the loss of Harnett.
In a statement, the CPS said Harnett's death is "felt as deeply" within the organization today as it was a year ago.
"Today’s guilty plea by the adult passenger accused in his case brings us one step closer to a resolution," the CPS said.
Harnett had been with the CPS for 12 years, and before that served as a military police officer with the Canadian Armed Forces.
The other man charged in Harnett's death cannot be named under the Youth Criminal Justice Act because he was 17-years-old at the time.
His trial is scheduled to go ahead on Jan. 31, 2022.
"Given this matter remains before the court on sentencing, and a trial for the youth driver is still to come, we are unable to provide any further comment at this time," the CPS concluded.