Const. James Forcillo gets bail in Sammy Yatim shooting
Lawyer says 2nd-degree murder charge against Toronto officer 'a life-changing incident'
Toronto police Const. James Forcillo, charged with second-degree murder in the streetcar shooting death of Sammy Yatim, received bail at an afternoon court appearance.
Forcillo, who appeared in court at Old City Hall on Tuesday morning, was granted bail in a separate hearing at the Superior Court of Justice in the afternoon.
The police officer exited the downtown courthouse stone-faced, saying nothing to a throng of reporters as he walked towards an SUV waiting on the street.
Forcillo's lawyer, Peter Brauti, had earlier told reporters outside that Forcillo's bail was $500,000 and that his client would be leaving the courthouse on Tuesday afternoon.
"He doesn't plan to run and hide from the media," said Brauti. "He's going to walk out the front doors … and he’s going to head home."
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The officer is prohibited from leaving Ontario under the conditions of his bail. Forcillo has four sureties, which include his wife and her family.
"The conditions were crafted between the defence and the Crown and they were designed to give the public confidence that the matter is being treated very seriously," Brauti said.
The 30-year-old officer entered custody earlier in the day at an undisclosed location in an arrangement made with his lawyer and the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), Ontario's police watchdog. In a Twitter message issued Monday, the SIU said it opted for the secret surrender because death threats have been made against Forcillo on social media.
Mike McCormack, the president of the Toronto Police Association, acknowledged that threats against the officer remain a concern. But he said that was no reason for Forcillo to be held in custody.
"We don't keep people in custody because their lives are being threatened, that's not how we operate," McCormack said, when speaking to reporters alongside Brauti outside the courthouse.
Shooting captured on videos
On Monday, the SIU announced it would recommend a second-degree murder charge against Forcillo for his role in the July 27 shooting that killed Yatim, 18, an incident captured on videos that have been viewed more than a million times online.
On videos of the shooting, nine shots can be heard, seconds after shouts for Yatim to drop a knife. The final six shots appear to come after Yatim had already fallen to the floor of the streetcar, and he is then stunned with a Taser.
It's not known how many of the shots hit Yatim, but the SIU has said he was shot multiple times.
The videos sparked outrage and prompted hundreds to take to the streets in two separate marches, demanding justice for Yatim.
Yatim's family released a statement Monday expressing relief that the officer was charged, but hoped the SIU would look into the actions of the supervising officers and other officers who were at scene "for their lack of intervention in this tragedy."
"Over 20 uniformed police officers were present and no one stepped forward to stop the gunshots or offer any mediation," the family wrote.
"Moving forward we expect complete transparency and accountability. We want to work now to ensure that Sammy's blood wasn't wasted and to prevent any other families from enduring such a tragedy."
The family plans to speak about the charges at a news conference scheduled for 3 p.m. Wednesday.
Similar charges against officers rare
This is only the second time a Toronto police shooting has led to a second-degree murder charge. The first was in 2012 in connection with the death of Eric Osawe during a raid at an apartment in 2010, and also followed an SIU investigation.
However, the judge at Const. David Cavanagh's preliminary hearing threw out the murder charge and also discharged the lesser charge of manslaughter.
Second-degree murder implies intent to kill the victim. The Crown brings a manslaughter charge when it does not believe the killing was intentional.
While convictions are rare in cases of police shootings, lawyer Peter Rosenthal, who has represented families killed by police, said the existence of video evidence sets the Yatim case apart from others.
"In most of these cases, the only witnesses are police officers and there isn’t any video that determines what happened," said Rosenthal in an interview on CBC News Network. "And the witnesses don’t necessarily expose their colleagues, who are the shooters."
Rosenthal said the video evidence compelled the SIU to file charges.
"Here we have a video that tells so much of the story that it’s hard to imagine appropriate defences, but in any event there’s definitely a clear charge that had to be laid."
With files from The Canadian Press