Forcillo's lawyer says officer had grounds to fire weapon in streetcar shooting

The police officer who fatally shot Sammy Yatim aboard a Toronto streetcar had grounds to fire his weapon, his lawyer told court this afternoon, arguing that Const. James Forcillo was responding to Yatim's refusal to surrender.

Toronto police officer faces 2nd-degree murder, attempted murder charges in Sammy Yatim's death

James Forcillo, left, listens as his lawyer Peter Brauti gives closing arguments to the jury on January 5, 2016. (Sketch: Pam Davies)

The police officer who fatally shot Sammy Yatim aboard a Toronto streetcar had grounds to fire his weapon, his lawyer told court this afternoon, arguing that Const. James Forcillo was responding to Yatim's refusal to surrender.

Lawyer Peter Brauti began his closing arguments in Forcillo's second-degree murder trial in Toronto Tuesday morning by saying that it's unfortunate the encounter between the two men ended in Yatim's death, but that it's "ludicrous" to suggest Forcillo, 32, wanted Yatim dead. 

Brauti told the jury his client is not guilty of murder, attempted murder or "any other crime."

Forcillo shot Yatim as he stood alone while brandishing a switchblade inside the 505 Dundas streetcar shortly after police arrived on July 26, 2013. 

Crown prosecutors argue Forcillo's actions weren't necessary or reasonable. Brauti, however, contends his client's actions were justified and carried out in self-defence.

Brauti told court Tuesday afternoon that it doesn't matter if Yatim, 18, intended to attack Forcillo or any of the officers that responded to the incident. It was enough that Forcillo believed he would.

Police have to "draw a line in the sand" in terms of their comfort level when they are engaged in such an encounter, Brauti said. Yatim had a clenched jaw and wild eyes and Forcillo had no way of knowing the reason for his behaviour, Brauti said. 

Yatim did not respond to Forcillo's command to stop moving and drop his knife, which suggested a threat. In the end, an officer's job is to focus on the threat at hand, and Yatim's behaviour justified Forcillo's response, Brauti said.  

'Very weak' case

Earlier Tuesday, Brauti began his closing arguments by calling the Crown's case for second-degree murder "very weak," adding that the case can't be decided on "sympathy for either side."

Brauti said it was the teen's decisions that created the confrontation leading to his death. 

Brauti argued that a switchblade knife is a prohibited deadly weapon, and that the 10-centimetre blade Yatim held was more than capable of causing serious injury or death.

He also argued that Yatim's response to Forcillo's requests to drop the knife — he called the officer a "pussy" — was a sign the teen was girding for a fight and unlikely to comply.

Almost every moment of the confrontation was captured on surveillance cameras inside the streetcar and by cellphone footage taken by a passersby. Footage from those sources has been played in court over the course of the trial. However, in his closing arguments, Brauti pointed out that the footage does not capture Yatim's face the moment he was shot. Forcillo, by contrast, was looking directly at Yatim, which Brauti said left him in the best position to assess Yatim's intentions and the threat he posed. 

The jury has heard Yatim had consumed the drug ecstasy before he boarded the westbound streetcar at Yonge Street and, minutes later, 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. 

Forcillo and partner 1st to arrive

Moments later, Forcillo and his partner, Const. Iris Fleckeisen, were the first police officers to arrive. 

Brauti said that when Forcillo got there, he did not know Yatim was alone on the streetcar. Brauti said a gun was the only effective weapon Forcillo could use in responding to the threat. 

Videos and audio recordings played at the trial, now into its third month, show Forcillo yelling repeatedly at Yatim to drop the knife. After a 50-second confrontation, the officer fired nine bullets — an initial volley of three, followed by another six. Eight of those shots struck Yatim. 

Fleckeisen, Forcillo, the streetcar driver, passengers and an expert on excessive use of force by police were among those who testified in Ontario Superior Court over the past seven weeks. 

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 volley.

TTC video footage shows Sammy Yatim, 18, drawing a knife on a streetcar shortly before being shot on July 26, 2013. (TTC security video)


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