Calgary

SUV passenger guilty of manslaughter in death of Calgary officer handed 5 years in prison

A Calgary man who pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the death of Sgt. Andrew Harnett has been sentenced to five years in prison.

A second man goes to trial Monday on a charge of 1st-degree murder

Amir Abdulrahman, left, pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the death of Calgary police officer Sgt. Andrew Harnett, who was killed during a traffic stop on Dec. 31, 2020. Abdulrahman was sentenced on Friday to five years in prison. (Calgary Police Service, Strathmore Legion/Facebook)

A Calgary man who pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the death of Sgt. Andrew Harnett has been sentenced to five years in prison.

With credit for the time he's already spent in custody, Amir Abdulrahman has a further three years and five months left to serve.

Abdulrahman, 20, was the passenger in an SUV that took off during a traffic stop on New Year's Eve 2020, dragging the officer 400 metres before he was thrown into the path of an oncoming car.

Originally charged with first-degree murder, Abdulrahman pleaded guilty to manslaughter before Alberta Court of Queen's Bench Justice Robert Hall in December.

In sentencing Abdulrahman, Hall said the courts must send "a message that those who are stopped by police must not choose flight."

"Sgt. Harnett's senseless death caused devastation not only to his family and colleagues but to the city as a whole that mourned the loss of an exemplary officer," he said in delivering Abdulrahman's sentence on Friday.

An image from a body camera worn by Harnett's colleague shows 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)

Hall said the sentence would have been six years, but he deducted one year because of mitigating factors, including the guilty plea, Abdulrahman's young age and his expression of remorse.

The judge also ruled that Abdulrahman was a "minor participant" in fleeing, he was "at no time the direct operator" of the SUV and his "movements were reactionary."

Crown prosecutor Mike Ewenson proposed an eight- to nine-year sentence, while defence lawyer Balfour Der argued his client should be handed a two-year term, plus two years' probation.

The man who police allege was driving at the time of Harnett's death is set to go on trial on a charge of first-degree murder on Monday. He was 17 years old at the time and cannot be named under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

Family members gave victim impact statements

In December, Harnett's widow and his Ontario-based mother and brother delivered powerful victim impact statements; Harnett's mother and brother both urged Abdulrahman to make better choices and to change his life.

Chelsea Goedhart, who was also at Friday's hearing, described in December of living with "soul-crushing grief" as she experienced her pregnancy and parenthood without her partner.

When offered the chance to speak, Abdulrahman gave a tearful apology to his victim's family and said: "I promise I will change my ways."

The traffic stop

On Dec. 31, 2020, Abdulrahman and his friend were on their way to a party when they were pulled over by Harnett because the vehicle's lights weren't on.

The driver pulled into a Petro-Canada gas station in the northeast part of the city.

In the course of his brief investigation, Harnett learned that the teen had only a learner's licence and that there were warrants out for Abdulrahman's arrest.

By that point, two fellow officers had arrived on the scene and made a plan. Harnett was to serve the traffic tickets on the driver while another officer arrested Abdulrahman.

But as the other officer approached Abdulrahman, and with Harnett standing at the driver's window, the vehicle took off.

'A clear effort to dislodge' officer

Harnett clung to the fleeing SUV. The vehicle sped away but quickly got stuck on a snowy berm in the parking lot. Abdulrahman reached over and grabbed the steering wheel, and the SUV took off once again.

As they continued to flee, Abdulrahman once again took the wheel as the driver pushed his door open with his feet and hands in what was described in court as "a clear effort to dislodge Sgt. Harnett onto the roadway."

Moments later, Harnett lost his grip, fell from the side of the vehicle and rolled into the path of an oncoming car.

Harnett's colleagues arrived quickly and tried to save him, but his injuries were too severe. They also tried to comfort the driver of the car that struck Harnett.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Meghan Grant

CBC Calgary crime reporter

Meghan Grant is CBC Calgary's justice affairs reporter. She has been covering courts, crime and stories of police accountability in southern Alberta for more than a decade. Send Meghan a story tip at meghan.grant@cbc.ca or follow her on Twitter.

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