Update: see previous post – October 13, 2015 Toronto Police Constable James Forcillo on Trial in Second Degree/Attempted Murder of Sammy Yatim
Opening statements begin in Toronto trial of police constable charged in 2013 fatal shooting of teen
James Forcillo and Sammy Yatim, armed with a knife, were too close together during a confrontation on a streetcar for the Toronto police officer to do anything but shoot the 18-year-old in self-defence, lawyer Peter Brauti told a jury today.
Forcillo’s lawyer said his client, charged with second-degree murder and attempted murder, will testify so that the jury will come to understand the shooting of Yatim, who was struck by eight bullets in July 2013, was justified and in self-defence.
On Tuesday, the jury first heard from prosecutor Milan Rupic who said Forcillo should never have opened fire on Yatim, adding it wasn’t “necessary or reasonable.”
- Sammy Yatim shooting: 4 things you need to know
- Sammy Yatim killing: Toronto police officer pleads not guilty
- Toronto police lay out changes to how officers deal with those in crisis
While Brauti said there is no dispute his client shot Yatim, the circumstances put Forcillo and a crowd gathered outside the streetcar at risk and action was required.
The Crown told the jury that Forcillo and his partner were the first to arrive at the streetcar after reports of a disturbance. Rupic said the two officers walked to the front of the streetcar with their weapons drawn, but Forcillo’s partner holstered her gun before other officers arrived and “she used a calm voice and asked Yatim a question.”
Forcillo demanded that Yatim “drop the knife,” but the 18-year-old mocked the officers and called them “pussies,” said Rupic.
Forcillo told Yatim if he took a step forward he would be shot.
Hit in the heart
The jury heard from the Crown that Forcillo’s first three shots hit Yatim in the heart, severed his spine and fractured his right arm. He fell onto his back with the knife still clutched in his hand.
The Crown said “Yatim did not lunge forward … and he was fatally wounded by one of the first three bullets.”
Yatim never got up from the floor of the streetcar after the first round of shots, but “that was not the end of the shooting,” Rupic said.
Five seconds later, Forcillo fired another half dozen times, including shots aimed at Yatim’s abdomen, legs and penis, Rupic told the court.
Of the nine shots fired, eight hit Yatim. The interaction took less than a minute.
An officer who arrived after the second round of shots used a conducted energy weapon on Yatim and kicked the knife out of the teen’s hand.
Rupic said Yatim was handcuffed and given medical attention but he was dead.
Brauti told jury members they’ll hear Forcillo never wanted to use lethal force and that the teen ignored repeated requests to drop his weapon.
During the confrontation, the officer had a baton, pepper spray and a handgun on him and “asked his partner to call for an officer with a Taser.”
Others officers were already on the way. Rupic said a dispatcher told them, “it was a hot shot at Dundas and Grace. A person with a knife, a male on streetcar,” but there were “no injuries to anyone at this time.”Brauti said a “hot shot” told officers they were answering “a call of extreme danger.”
On the streetcar, Forcillo was “from 20 to 30 feet” away from Yatim. The defence will call an expert witness to testify that at half that distance there’s a life-threatening risk if someone is armed with a knife.
He explained Forcillo repeatedly said “drop the knife,” so a suspect “clearly knows and understands what you want them to do,” and to let other officers and bystanders know the situation was dangerous and the suspect was armed.
Brauti said Forcillo will testify that to him it “looked like the calm before the storm.”
Yatim’s last word was ‘No,’ defence says
When asked to drop the knife one final time, Yatim’s last word, according to the defence, was “No,” and then he moved forward.
“It was not a sprint, not a charge,” but Brauti said Yatim moved with what the police officer perceived as intent, “almost like a tough guy, bring it on approach.”
Brauti said Yatim disregarded the repeated pleas, and displayed “fearlessness” and “anger” that forced Forcillo into a decision because “waiting one more second” would have been unsafe for the officers and for the crowd gathered outside the streetcar.
Regarding the number of shots, Brauti said his client believed Yatim was still moving and had not surrendered. Even when on the ground, Forcillo believed the victim was on the attack.
There will be significant video evidence shown during the trial, including one from inside the streetcar. Brauti acknowledged that video differs from Forcillo’s memory. “He will give you some explanations as to why his perception of how far Mr. Yatim got up is different from the video.”
Among about a dozen witnesses, the Crown will call the TTC driver who was alone on a streetcar with Yatim before police got there. He is expected to testify that moments before he was shot, Yatim asked to call his father, according to the Crown.
Yatim’s odd behaviour started at a transit stop near Yonge and Dundas streets where he told a TTC cleaner he needed a phone, wanted help and asked the cleaner to call police. Before the cleaner could act, Rupic said, Yatim boarded the streetcar heading west.
A family of four female family members also got on the streetcar and Yatim exposed himself to them, Rupic told the court. “He unzipped his pants, exposed his penis and took out a four-inch switchblade,” he said.
Brauti also said the family members were on their way to a Justin Bieber concert when Yatim, seated near them “pulled out his penis and was rubbing it with his hand,” while holding the switchblade. It was a 12-year-old girl sitting just a few feet away that noticed him first.
The lawyer said Yatim became enraged when the family members rose to exit and that’s when the teen lunged with the knife toward the throat of one of the women. “She will tell you that had she not jerked back as Mr. Yatim attempted to slash her, she would not be alive today,” he said.
The women screamed and made their way to the front of the streetcar. Rupic had earlier told the court that Yatim didn’t pursue them or other passengers.
He was left alone with the driver, who asked if Yatim wanted to call someone. Rupic said when the teen said he did the driver asked, “Who do you want to call.” Yatim responded, “My dad,” Rupic said.