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‘It’s just so hard to let it go’: Umar Zameer still haunted by death of Toronto police officer

“We hoped for this day, but we were scared that it would not never ever come because it took so long.”

That’s what Umar Zameer, the man recently acquitted in the death of a Toronto police officer, told CTV News Toronto in a sit-down interview on Tuesday.

A jury found the 34-year-old accountant not guilty on Sunday following a weeks-long trial that looked at the events of July 2, 2021, when Toronto Police Det. Const. Jeffrey Northrup was run over by Zameer in the underground parking garage of Nathan Phillips Square shortly after midnight. Northrup was transported to hospital where he died.

‘A nightmare’

“It’s just so hard to let it go. I mean, everyone is telling me, ‘you have to move on,’ but I know someone is just not here [anymore]. So I don’t know how I will move on. I’m trying my best and I will keep trying my best,” he said.

“That night was a nightmare for us. And I don’t know when it will go away. But that night and then the days forward and then the years, I don’t know how long it will haunt us,” he said.

Zameer had pleaded not guilty to the charge of first-degree murder laid in connection with the incident.

He was in his car with his pregnant wife and young child following Canada Day celebrations at the downtown square when Northrup and his partner, both in plainclothes at the time, approached his vehicle in the parking garage as they investigated a stabbing in the area. Zameer wasn’t involved in the stabbing and said he didn’t know the pair were police officers.

Northrup’s partner, Det. Const. Lisa Forbes, testified that she had repeatedly identified herself as a police officer and banged on the car and yelled as Zameer started driving. But Zameer told the court that he thought his family was being attacked.

When an unmarked police van blocked Zameer’s path, he reversed, making what two crash reconstruction experts told the court was glancing contact with Northrup, and accelerated forward. Northrup was on the ground when he was run over by Zameer’s vehicle, the experts both testified. Zameer and his wife, who was also present at Tuesday’s interview, told the court they thought they had gone over a speed bump and weren’t aware they had hit Northrup until the unmarked van rammed into his vehicle at the exit gate and he was arrested.

Umar Zameer (left) and his wife Aaida Shaikh, speak to CTV News Toronto on April 23, 2024.

Zameer’s wife ‘shocked’ by police comments

Zameer’s wife, Aaida Shaikh, recalled speaking to police after the incident and said that she hoped her statements would help to add clarity to the situation. But, she said that she was shocked when then-Toronto police chief James Ramer told reporters that Northrup’s death was “deliberate” hours later.

“I was in shock because I just told them everything. How come they are saying the complete opposite? I was just shocked. Confused. Betrayed. Because the police are there to help us, but unfortunately it was the opposite,” she said.

On top of Ramer’s comments, Ontario Premier Doug Ford and then Toronto mayor John Tory also weighed in on the case, with the former calling Zameer’s bail release two months after the incident “completely unacceptable.”

On Tuesday, in some of his first comments on the case since then, Ford said he respected the court’s decision.

“It’s a very sad situation that happened…my heart goes out to Margaret and her family as well,” he said, referring to Northrup’s widow.

“At that time I had limited information. The courts have decided, the jury decided and you have to respect the justice system.”

Toronto Police Chief Myron Demkiw has also clarified his stance on the case, after saying he had hoped for “a different outcome” following news of the acquittal.

“Let me be crystal clear: I support and accept the verdict of the jury,” Demkiw said at a news conference at Toronto police headquarters earlier on Tuesday. “I have always been a supporter of the justice process, including all elements of the system that leads us towards justice.”

A day earlier, Demkiw announced that he had ordered the Ontario Provincial Police to conduct an “independent review” after Superior Court Justice Anne Molloy raised concerns about the reliability of officer testimony in the trial. Molloy had previously told jurors that the officers’ testimony that was at the centre of the case didn’t match the physical evidence and advised them to watch out for possible collusion.

“My deepest apologies for what you’ve been through,” she told Zameer before leaving the courtroom Sunday after the verdict was delivered. 

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