Toronto

Lethal force a 'final resort' for police, Const. James Forcillo trial hears

Toronto police officers are taught to use lethal force as a last option, but sometimes they have just seconds to make life or death decisions, the force's deputy chief testified at the trial of Const. James Forcillo on Friday.

Toronto Police Service's Deputy Chief Michael Federico testifies for second consecutive day

TTC video footage shows Sammy Yatim, 18, holding a knife on a streetcar shortly before being shot and Tasered on July 26, 2013. The trial of Const. James Forcillo, who is charged in connection with the shooting, continues today. (TTC security video)

Toronto police officers are taught to use lethal force as a last option, but sometimes they have just seconds to make life or death decisions, the force's deputy chief testified at the trial of Const. James Forcillo on Friday.

Forcillo, 32, is charged with second-degree murder and attempted murder in connection with the shooting death of Sammy Yatim, an 18-year-old who was wielding a knife on a Toronto streetcar on July 26, 2013. Forcillo has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The jury has already heard that Forcillo shot Yatim eight times, firing his service pistol nine times into the streetcar where the teenager was alone and holding a switchblade.

"It's a last resort to use lethal force. It's the most serious decision for an officer. Though it doesn't mean an officer has to try everything else. Sometimes there's no time," Deputy Chief Michael Federico testified.

Federico, who was testifying for the second straight day, would not speak directly about Forcillo's actions, but did speak about the complexities of responding in a high-pressure situation.

Officers are trained to "wait for the best time to move in," as the goal isn't lethal force, it's to take a non-active attacker into custody, he said. 

He also told the court all officers are trained that someone with a knife is not an imminent threat.

Federico is Crown witness

Federico, considered by the Crown and defence to be an expert on use of force, also testified that all police officers are trained to know they immediately have more options once backup arrives.

"You're not alone," he said.

He said backup allows the officers "to position themselves in a way that contains the individual or restricts their mobility." It also "brings to bear additional force options," such as attempting to gather information from a suspect or trying to calm them down or using pepper spray or their baton.

The jury has seen a number of videos showing Forcillo repeatedly shouting to Yatim to drop the knife he was holding while on the empty streetcar.

Disregarded orders to drop knife

Milan Rupic, the Crown prosecutor, said in his opening statement that Yatim had consumed MDMA, commonly known as ecstasy, and marijuana before causing a disturbance on the streetcar, which brought police to the scene.

Federico described a person in crisis as "someone who is not coping with a situation anymore."

He said officers should ask questions such as "What's your name? What's wrong? What's troubling you? Tell me what I can do to help? What is it you need?"

He said officers should ask these questions to determine if an individual is reachable.

On Thursday, Eugene Liscio, an expert who created a three-dimensional model to analyze the scene, testified the minimum distance between Yatim's knife and the closest part of Forcillo's body was 2.77 metres — just over nine feet.

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