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Partner of slain Toronto police officer tears up on the stand at murder trial

TORONTO – A Toronto police officer teared up on the stand Thursday as she recalled the events that led to her partner’s death nearly three years ago, and the shock she felt at the sight of his broken body.

Sgt. Lisa Forbes, who was a detective constable at the time, is testifying at the murder trial of the man accused of killing Det.-Const. Jeffrey Northrup. Umar Zameer has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder.

Northrup, 55, died on July 2, 2021, after he was run over by a car in an underground parking garage below Toronto City Hall.

Forbes said she and Northrup had known each other for more than a decade and had both recently joined the major crimes unit, which investigates more serious incidents such as stabbings and robberies. Officers in that unit typically work in plain clothes, meaning they don’t wear a police uniform, though they wear a badge around their neck, she said.

That night, the two of them were among the officers who responded to a reported stabbing around 11:45 p.m., she said. The investigation led them to an underground garage, and the pair – who were in plain clothes – began methodically examining each level for signs of a crime scene, she said.

Court has heard Zameer was not involved in the stabbing, though he and his family had coincidentally walked past the victim earlier in the night.

At one point, Forbes said she heard a child’s voice, and the sound stood out because the garage was otherwise deserted. She could see a vehicle with headlights on at the end of the garage, she recalled. She then saw a man by the driver side door, she said.

Forbes said she and Northrup initially wanted to talk to the man because he seemed to match the description given by the stabbing victim – a brown-skinned man with a beard. When asked about it again later, Forbes said she wanted to talk to him because she wanted to talk to anyone in the garage in case they had information about the stabbing.

The two officers walked towards the SUV and passed in front of it, she said. Forbes recalled looking inside and seeing a woman wearing a hijab and a child in a car seat. She said she made eye contact with the man, grabbed her badge and told him they were police officers and wanted to talk to him, but he got inside the car.

Forbes said she identified herself as an officer several times, and spoke more slowly in case there was a language barrier issue, but Zameer did not seem to register that information. She also held her badge up to the car window and motioned for him to roll it down, she said.

“I felt there was a communication error,” she said.

The officer said Northrup was next to her but she wasn’t sure if his badge was visible at this time. It was not visible in security footage from above ground that was previously shown in court.

Suddenly, the car lurched forward, Forbes testified, adding the move caught her off guard. It braked immediately after an unmarked police van blocked its path, she said.

Forbes said she was banging on the window, either with an open hand or the side of her fist, and yelling for the driver to stop. The car then reversed at an angle and moved forward again, separating the officers, who were still yelling at the driver to stop, she said.

The car reversed again, at an angle, which caused Northrup to stumble into the laneway in front of the car, she said. The SUV then accelerated and hit Northrup, sending him “flying backwards,” then ran him over, she said.

“He’s a large man … so it’s like it gets stuck on him,” she recalled. Eventually, the car made it over and drove away, Forbes said.

At this time, Forbes said she was screaming “not words, just sound.”

She told the officers in the van to follow the SUV and she would tend to Northrup, she said.

“I go up to Jeff and he looks like he’s fallen off a building,” his body so twisted that it was difficult to get him on his back for CPR, she said. Northrup exhaled twice “and then that was it,” she said.

Both the officer and Northrup’s wife, who was sitting in the courtroom, wiped away tears as his last moments were laid out in court.

In their opening remarks to the jury on Wednesday, prosecutors and defence lawyers painted drastically different pictures of the events that led to Northrup’s death.

The defence argued the officer’s death was a “tragic accident” caused by a misunderstanding and fear, while the Crown pinned it on a series of choices made by Zameer over a few short moments.

Zameer’s defence lawyer also said his client didn’t know that Northrup and his partner were police officers and that Zameer and his wife thought they were being ambushed by criminals when the officers rushed towards them in the deserted underground parking lot.

Less than 20 seconds passed between the car’s first movement forward to Northrup’s death, court heard.

Court also heard on Thursday that Forbes was previously found guilty of discreditable conduct in a police disciplinary process over her role in a fundraiser for the family of Sgt. Ryan Russell, who died after he was hit by a stolen snowplow.

Forbes, who went under a different last name at the time, helped sell T-shirts to raise thousands of dollars after Russell’s 2011 death, and other officers filed a complaint a year later when the family had not yet received any money.

She told the court she was assisting another officer in the fundraiser, and he was in charge of turning over the money.

“This was a well-intentioned charity and it was mismanaged,” she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 21, 2024.