Calgary

'Hold tight, we're here': Calgary officer who tried to save Sgt. Andrew Harnett testifies at murder trial

The two officers who were with Sgt. Andrew Harnett the night he was killed during a traffic stop testified at the first-degree murder trial for the teen who was driving on New Year's Eve 2020.

Teen was driving vehicle that fled from traffic stop with officer clinging to side

Sgt. Andrew Harnett was dragged for 400 metres before he fell from a fleeing SUV. The teen accused of driving the SUV is on trial for first-degree murder. (Strathmore Legion/Facebook)

When he found Sgt. Andrew Harnett sprawled out on the roadway, Calgary police Const. Josh Desroches lay beside the injured officer, held his head and talked to him.

"Don't move, hold tight, we're here," Desroches said to Harnett.

Desroches and his partner, Const. Adam Osmond, didn't know it at the time but their sergeant was dying. 

The three had just conducted a traffic stop along Falconridge Boulevard. As they were about to issue tickets to the underage driver of an Infinity SUV and arrest the passenger on outstanding warrants, the vehicle took off with Harnett clinging to the side.

Const. Josh Deroches's body-worn camera shows Amir Abdulrahman in the passenger seat of the SUV as officers were telling him he was under arrest on outstanding warrants just moments before the vehicle took off. (Court exhibit)

About 400 metres later and as the SUV reached speeds of up to 100km/h, Harnett lost his grip on the driver's side door and fell into the path of an oncoming car. 

The driver of the SUV is now on trial for first-degree murder but can't be identified because he was a youth on Dec. 31, 2020, when Harnett was killed.

On Wednesday, Desroches and Osmond testified as Crown witnesses.

'I just laid by his head'

The pair had chased after the SUV initially, and when it sped out of a parking lot onto Falconridge Drive, they sprinted back to their cruiser and drove.

Within seconds they came across Harnett, lying in the road. The 37-year-old had been struck by an oncoming car. The driver of that vehicle was frantically trying to find help for the fallen officer.

While Osmond called for help and tried to keep traffic away from his colleagues, Desroches ran to Harnett.

"I just got down on the road with him and there was no obvious injuries to tend to and I was really unsure how he came off the vehicle," said Desroches. 

A trainee at the time, Desroches said he held Harnett's neck hoping to prevent further injury.

"I just laid by his head … held his c-spine and just talked to him."

Driver who struck Harnett in great distress

Harnett, he said, was breathing, appeared alert but wasn't able to speak. Desroches said he felt as though the injured colleague was responding with his eyes.

"I just held that position and talked to him until we got support."

Once paramedics and firefighters showed up, Osmond and Desroches turned their attention to the driver of the sedan that had struck Harnett. 

Mackson Ogunsanya was "in a great amount of distress," said Osmond in his testimony. 

Another ambulance was requested for Ogunsanya, who testified Tuesday that while the officers tried to save Harnett, he sat in his car crying.

Harnett was 'clinging' to door 

Defence lawyer Bob Aloneissi conducted a cross-examination of the officer and reviewed the 10 safety principles taught to police recruits for Code 600s — vehicle pursuits — for when a chase is justified.

One of those principles is that officers are not to pursue a vehicle when a suspect is in breach of a provincial traffic offence, Aloneissi pointed out. 

He also had Desroches acknowledge the description of Harnett "clinging to the door" of the SUV. The officer agreed that Harnett appeared to have "half his body inside the driver's window." 

Through his cross-examination of other Crown witnesses, Aloneissi has suggested that Harnett should not have been holding onto the vehicle.

On Day 1 of the 19-year-old's trial, Aloneissi offered a manslaughter plea, which was rejected by prosecutor Mike Ewenson. 

The passenger in the SUV on the night Harnett was killed was Amir Abdulrahman, 20, who pleaded guilty last month to a lesser charge of manslaughter. Last week, he was sentenced to five years in prison.

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