Warning: Story contains distressing details.
Const. Sarah Cochrane was in her police cruiser headed to the scene of a crash at Hyde Park Road and South Carriage roads on June 6, 2021, when she decided to go to Cherryhill Mall’s parking lot in London, Ont., where a possible suspect had pulled in.
Flagged down by a taxi driver who was calling police at the behest of the driver of a black pickup truck, Cochrane immediately noticed the accused going down on his knees, hands above his head.
“This position is a position of disadvantage. When he placed himself in that position before I asked him to do so, I was concerned,” Cochrane, the first officer at the scene of Nathaniel Veltman’s parking lot surrender following a truck attack on a Muslim family, testified Tuesday in Ontario Superior Court in Windsor.
“I was concerned about the position he had placed himself in and I was trying to gauge for compliance. I wanted to see if he’d follow my orders.”
The officer told the murder-terror trial that she asked the accused to put his chest and stomach on the ground and his hands on either side, in a T formation, so his hands were “as far away from his body as they possibly can be.”
The accused complied. With her knee on his lower back, Cochrane put the accused in handcuffs, told him he was under arrest for dangerous operation of a motor vehicle and that he had the right to a lawyer.
Cochrane said that as she began to get more information about what happened at Hyde Park and South Carriage roads, she arrested him again for attempted murder and again several minutes later for first-degree murder.
Veltman, 22, is charged with four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder, as well as associated terrorism charges because prosecutors say he was motivated by far-right ideology.
The defence concedes the accused was driving his black pickup truck when it struck five members of the Afzaal family, some of whom were wearing traditional Pakistani clothing.
The Afzaals were on an evening stroll when they were struck. Yumnah Afzaal, 15, her parents, Madiha Salman, 44, and Salman Afzaal, 46, and family matriarch Talat Afzaal, 74, were killed. A boy who was nine years old at the time survived.
‘He didn’t appear upset,’ officer testifies
Despite other officers arriving at the parking lot and emergency vehicles speeding down Oxford Street toward the crash site, Cochrane remained focused on the man she was arresting and searching, she testified.
“I recall an extremely busy dynamic, a unique situation. I know there were other officers there, but my attention was on Mr. Veltman,” Cochrane said.
“I needed to ensure that I was going to be safe, my fellow officers would be safe, Mr. Veltman would be safe in my custody and the public would be safe as well, so I needed to ensure with certainty that there were no weapons, no means of escape, no evidence.”
WATCH | WARNING: Arrest video shown at trial has graphic content:
SUMMARY: WARNING: This video contains graphic content. Part of the evidence submitted to the jury was video taken from Cherryhill Mall security cameras in London, Ont., as the accused spoke to a taxi driver and police arrived to arrest him.
Throughout the arrest, the accused “seemed happy,” she said. “He was smiling. He was looking around. He didn’t appear upset.”
As she drove him downtown to London police headquarters, he was looking around, so much so that she made sure her cruiser was staggered from other vehicles so the accused couldn’t make eye contact with other drivers or passengers.
“In my opinion, he appeared proud,” Cochrane testified.
She showed the jury the bulletproof vest and military-style helmet she took off the accused.
Pictures of messy apartment shown
Earlier in the day, the jury heard from one of the police officers tasked with searching Veltman’s downtown London studio apartment, which had items, mostly clothing, strewn about on the floor and bed.
An overflowing wastebasket near the kitchen area had a large Holy Bible in it, as well as a binder marked “2012 Ontario Building Codes,” court heard. The accused’s wallet, birth certificate, passport and a Fanshawe College student card were also in the apartment.
Also found and photographed was a piece of paper with a handwritten table that appeared to show kilometres and miles per hour and percentages, ranging from 35 km/h to 65 km/h, with the percentages ranging from 5 per cent to 85 per cent. At the bottom was a note stating “+++even more.”
On Tuesday morning, jurors were shown videos of the accused coming and going from his apartment on the evening of June 6, 2021, at one point taking a handful of items into the garbage room before leaving the downtown apartment at 7:58 p.m. ET.
The Afzaal family was struck just before 8:45 p.m. that night, court heard.
The trial is in its third week, and expected to last a total of eight weeks.
Proceedings continue Wednesday.
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