The second week of the trial for the man accused in the London, Ont., vehicle attack ended with testimony from police officers involved in the arrest and booking of Nathaniel Veltman.
The 22-year-old is accused of deliberately hitting five members of the Afzaal family with his truck while they were out for a walk on June 6, 2021. He has pleaded not guilty to four counts of first degree murder and one count of attempted murder.
Prosecutors have alleged his actions in June 2021 amount to an act of terrorism and argued he was motivated by white nationalist beliefs.
Const. Patti Leavoy-Costa first took the stand on Thursday and told the court that she responded to assist in the arrest at Cherryhill Mall. She described Veltman as “very excitable, continuously yelling” and said he, “at one point, appeared to be smiling.”
She said she saw large knife in the pocket area of the black pickup truck involved in the attack as well as a pocket knife in the centre console area.
When proceedings continued Friday, she provided further details about Veltman’s demeanour, stating that he appeared to be smiling several times, including when he was being led to the police cruiser and when he was up against it while officers searched him.
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Defence lawyer Christopher Hicks zeroed in on what he described as inconsistencies between Leavoy-Costa’s notes, statements and interview. In particular, he stated that neither her notes, nor her statement (more depth than regular notes), mentioned anything about the bulletproof-style vest Veltman was wearing, which she told the jury on Friday morning she had seen.
Hicks also asked why Leavoy-Costa decided to search Veltman, as two other officers were already doing so, at one point suggesting she “elbowed” her way into a pat-down search.
“Complacency kills. Never underestimate the person you’re dealing with,” she said, adding that police were not familiar with the accused and she had seen weapons in the truck.
Hicks also noted that her notes and statement did not include her claim that she told two officers searching Veltman that she had observed knives in the truck. She agreed but said that she would never withhold that information from the officers, suggesting that it was assumed she would have told them.
Friday’s proceedings concluded with Const. Matthew Hietkamp sharing his recollections of the night Veltman was arrested.
“I was first alerted at 8:50 p.m. when I was dispatched, I went to help assist with locating a motor vehicle that had fled the scene from a hit and run,” he told court.
By the time he arrived, Veltman was already in the back of a cruiser.
“He was happy, he was smiling. He was looking around. He appeared giddy when I was on scene,” Hietkamp said.
He was involved in arranging transport to the cells at police headquarters and followed directly behind the cruiser that Veltman was in. When stopped at the intersection of Riverside Drive and Wharncliffe Road, he said Veltman still appeared to be smiling.
There was a wait as they arrived at police headquarters but once Veltman was brought in, another more thorough search was conducted, he testified, and a knife sheath was found on his belt.
When asked why another search would be conducted, he explained that “search at roadside is more brief in nature, it’s not a thorough search. Again this individual is coming into our custody, we have a responsibility to take care of them.”
He added that the more thorough search includes a metal detector wand and that steel-toed boots – like the ones Veltman was wearing – are confiscated.
After being booked in, he says Veltman would have been brought to an interview room, which has a phone.
In questioning Hietkamp, Hicks clarified that the accused had a sheath on his belt but it was empty, there was no knife on him. He also confirmed that while the interview room has a telephone, it can only receive incoming calls.
The jury was then adjourned for the weekend, with court resuming Monday.
Meanwhile, video evidence presented to the jury late last week was released to the media Thursday afternoon, including two interviews with Veltman conducted by Det. Micah Bourdeau in the first 14 hours after the attack.
The first interview occurred between roughly 1:30 a.m. and 3:30 a.m., with Veltman speaking with conviction and energy, repeatedly apologizing to the detective for going on “rants” or “tangents.”
The second video, which began just before 10 a.m. that same morning, appeared to show a more subdued and disoriented Veltman, refusing to answer many of Bourdeau’s questions and speaking softly, at times near to a whisper.
Salman Afzaal, 46, his 44-year-old wife, Madiha Salman, their 15-year-old daughter, Yumna, and her 74-year-old grandmother, Talat Afzaal, were killed in the London attack. The couple’s nine-year-old son was also seriously hurt but survived.
The trial, which is taking place in Windsor, Ont., is expected to last six more weeks.