The Crown prosecutor at the second-degree murder trial of Toronto police Const. James Forcillo told the jury Friday that police witnesses "tried to pull the wool over your eyes" to protect their colleague.
Milan Rupic made the comments Friday morning during the final day of closing arguments. He cautioned the jury to be mindful of the biases that police witnesses may have when speaking about the 32-year-old fellow officer.
Forcillo is charged with second-degree murder and attempted murder in the shooting death of Sammy Yatim, 18, aboard a Toronto streetcar on July 26, 2013. The officer has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The jury has already heard that Forcillo shot Yatim, firing his service pistol nine times into the streetcar where the teenager was alone holding a switchblade.
Video evidence shows that Forcillo fired an initial volley of three shots, followed by another six. Eight of those shots struck the teenager.
A battle of wills
Rupic pointed out that after the initial volley, Yatim crumpled to the floor of the streetcar, where he remained motionless and did not get up.
The prosecutor argued it's "common sense" that Yatim posed no threat after the initial volley of shots.
The prosecutor admitted police have a dangerous job and are sometimes obliged to use lethal force, but that must be exercised under the rule of law.
He said Forcillo treated the incident as a battle of wills, quoting the officer's earlier testimony where he said he wanted to "win" the situation involving Yatim, which he said is not part of police training.
Rupic told the court the defendant became locked in a test of wills, and that the officer wanted to ensure he made it home that night and Yatim did not,
Rupic focused on the testimony of Forcillo's partner, Const. Iris Fleckeisen. Forcillo and Fleckeisen were the first officers to arrive after police were called about a disturbance aboard a westbound 505 Dundas streetcar, near Dundas Street West and Bellwoods Avenue.
Rupic reminded the jury that Fleckeisen admitted she had based some of her testimony during the preliminary hearing on a printout from a police computer, not on what she actually heard over the police radio on the night of the shooting. Rupic said Fleckeisen was caught "between a rock and a hard place" — torn between giving an honest account of what she saw that night and still protecting her partner.
The prosecutor also called Sgt. Dan Pravica an untruthful witness. Pravica Tasered Yatim multiple times after he'd been shot, and he is under investigation for that action.
Rupic pointed out that Pravica wrote in his police notes that Yatim tried to stand up and come forward after he'd been shot, when in fact he remained still on the floor of the streetcar.
Crown prosecutors have told the jury that Forcillo's actions weren't necessary or reasonable. The defence, however, contends the officer's actions were justified and carried out in self-defence.
The jury has heard Yatim had consumed the drug ecstasy before he boarded the streetcar at Yonge Street. Minutes later, the teen exposed himself to women on board and drew a knife — bringing the car to a halt and causing panicked passengers to exit the doors near Grace Street.
Videos and audio recordings played at the trial, which is now into its third month, show Forcillo yelling repeatedly at Yatim to drop the knife.
During his testimony, Forcillo denied he lost his cool during the confrontation. He said he stood by his decision to fire the first volley of shots but, in hindsight, would not have fired the second.