Court of King’s Bench Justice Anna Loparco ruled that the Crown had not proved murderous intent
The Calgary teenager whose flight from a traffic stop led to the fatal shooting of a city police officer was acquitted Thursday of first-degree murder.
Court of King’s Bench judge Anna Loparco ruled that while the teenager – who cannot be named because he was a juvenile at the time – intended to kill Sgt. Andrew Harnett bodily harm while ejecting him from his vehicle, the Crown could not prove murderous intent.
She found him guilty of manslaughter.
“The Crown established that the accused intended to kill Sgt. Harnett bodily harm,” Loparco said near the conclusion of her 2 ½ hour oral decision.
But she said the question is whether death is likely to follow the accused.
Loparco rejected much of the now 19-year-old’s testimony about his intentions during the fatal incident shortly before midnight on December 31, 2020.
The defendant said he panicked when Harnett approached to ticket him for not having his headlights on more than 30 minutes after pulling over near Falconridge Boulevard NE.
As he sped off, the officer caught up to the SUV, and instead of following Harnett’s instructions to stop, the teenager sped down the road at speeds between 80 and 90 km/h in a 50 km/h zone , the judge said.
“A chaotic scene ensued,” Loparco said.
“I accept that the chaos and panic to which the defendants testified continued and probably increased.”
She noted that people, both his passengers and the officers on the scene, were shouting commands for him to either stop or flee.
“I accept that the accused was scared and his anxiety was through the roof at the time,” Loparco found.
“He may not have thought rationally about the fatal consequences that could flow.”
She said the chaos of the incident supports “his claim that he did not turn his mind to the likely fatal consequences of his actions.”
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The judge said even Harnett’s decision to stop the vehicle, even if it was temporarily on a snow-covered berm before it regained traction and sped down the boulevard, illustrated the insane nature of what happened.
“She decides to keep her hold on the vehicle . . . in my opinion reflects the chaos of the situation,” Loparco said.
But she said it was not an indictment of the officer’s actions, as he was simply doing his job as a police officer.
“Of course it is the accused, and not Sgt. Harnett, who chose not to stop the vehicle despite the officer’s repeated demands and instead took the steps to chase him down a well-traveled street at a high rate of speed,” she said.
“It is the accused who could have avoided the tragic situation and instead chose a course that led to death.”
She said that while the perpetrator may have intended the deadly consequences of his actions, that was not enough.
“More is required than proof that the accused is likely to be guilty.”
Crown prosecutor Mike Ewenson, who had previously indicated he wanted to seek a mature sentence, said he would continue to do so on the reduced charge.
“This was not the verdict we were hoping for,” Police Chief Mark Neufeld said in a statement Thursday evening. “However, nothing that could have happened today would have changed the fact that we have lost a friend, a colleague, a leader and, more importantly, Andrew’s loved ones have lost a spouse, a brother and son.”
Defense attorney Zachary Al-Khatib asked Loparco to order a pre-sentence report as well as a custody update on his client.
A sentencing date will not be set until January 13, after the offender turns 20 years old.
He remains in custody until then.
If sentenced as an adult, he could face a sentence of up to life in prison, although this is extremely rare in manslaughter cases. As a juvenile, his maximum sentence is three years of detention and community supervision combined.