Milan Rupic wraps up Crown’s summation Friday by denouncing officers’ ‘shameless’ and ‘deliberate false’ testimony in defence of constable who shot and killed Sammy Yatim.
The murder trial, with Const. James Forcillo in the prosecution crosshairs, has been about one cop, one gun, one dead teenager.
But quite a few police officers have taken the witness stand in the University Ave. courtroom. Several came to aid and abet a colleague — a fellow member of the badge tribe, Crown Attorney Milan Rupic told jurors Friday. Even if that meant prevaricating, contriving and falsifying under oath.
That tells a bigger story about the challenge of getting to the truth of the thing when an officer stands accused of a crime. Forcillo, 32, has pleaded not guilty to charges of second-degree murder, attempted murder and aggravated assault in the July 2013 shooting of knife-wielding 18-year-old Sammy Yatim aboard an empty Dundas streetcar.
“When push comes to shove, one colleague will lie or distort facts in aid of a co-worker,” Rupic said as he wound down his closing address to the jury. “What you saw were members of the police community circling the wagons.”
It’s all coming to a verdict climax, as the Crown wrapped up its day-and-a-half summation. Justice Edward Then is expected to charge the jury late next week but deliberations won’t begin until at least Jan. 18.
Murder trials rarely go so long. But a cop accused of homicide is a rarity. The legal prism through which use of force must be viewed — by virtue of latitude provided to law enforcement in the Criminal Code — reflects a kaleidoscope of justification and self-defence not available to ordinary citizens.
“In your deliberations, you may wonder about what kind of allowance we should properly give a police officer when they see a teenager holding a knife on a streetcar,” said Rupic.
“There is a law in Canada that says when police may and may not use lethal force. It is the rule of law that separates this country from other places in the world. In Canada, police officers are not permitted to kill anyone unless it is reasonable and necessary in order to prevent death or grievous harm.”
Forcillo testified that the lethal outcome of that confrontation with a defiant, non-compliant Yatim, while regrettable, was reasonable, necessary, justifiable and in accordance with his training. Yatim was aiming to come off that streetcar and had to be stopped because he posed a calamitous risk.
The prosecution maintains it was none of those things; that the situation could have and should have been de-escalated had Forcillo not gone immediately for the “last resort” option — firing his Glock nine times in two separate volleys, Yatim struck by eight hollow point points.
In his second day of closing arguments, Rupic zeroed in on the police witnesses who had buttressed the defendant’s position from the witness stand.
There was Forcillo’s partner, Const. Iris Fleckeisen, who, Rupic reminded, changed her evidence several times since the shooting — about un-holstering her gun, about seeing Yatim put his arms up in “mock surrender” — and who described the one pace forward Yatim had made as a “lunge step” — what the Crown characterized as a “deliberate false statement to make it appear Yatim was coming forward,” dovetailing with the defendant’s testimony.
There was Const. Robert Furyk, who testified seeing Yatim trying to get back up after the first volley — which had severed his spine. But Furyk arrived on scene at 12:01:10 — after the second volley. “After-the-fact justification for that second volley of shots,” said Rupic, pointing out Furyk had never mentioned those details in his memo book.
There was the “evasive, combative” Sgt. Dan Pravica, who is under investigation for misconduct in the Tasering of Yatim. He upheld Forcillo’s original claim that Yatim was making “every effort” to stand up after the first volley, though video evidence disproves it. “That is baloney,” said Rupic. “A shameless attempt to paint a false picture of Sammy Yatim.”
And there was Ontario Police College instructor Paul Bonner, a civilian. “His performance in this courtroom was frankly a disgrace.”
Rupic ended on a ringing note of judicial integrity.
“In our system of justice, in our liberal democracy, police do not get to judge themselves. Police officers cannot and certainly do not deserve to be treated differently from any other accused person. Whether the accused is a prime minister or a plumber, whether the accused is an army general or a janitor, whether the accused is a police officer or a clerk, they will be judged by a jury composed of persons such as yourself.”