Use-of-force expert critical of police tactics during Sammy Yatim shooting

An American expert in police use-of-force was critical of the way Toronto police officers handled their confrontation with Sammy Yatim.

Robert Warshaw says Const. James Forcillo had many options to de-escalate the situation

Robert Warshaw, left, police use-of-force expert, testifies at Const. James Forcillo Trial on Wednesday.

An American expert in police use of force was critical of the way Toronto police officers handled their confrontation with Sammy Yatim, during testimony Wednesday afternoon at the murder trial of Const. James Forcillo.

Robert Warshaw told the court the shooting of Yatim escalated "from A to Z rather quickly," but said Forcillo had time to consider other options. 

"Time was on his side. Time was the asset that Officer Forcillo had at his disposal," said Warshaw. 

Warshaw is a former U.S. police chief and consults on police use-of-force for American federal judges.

Forcillo, 32, is charged with second-degree murder and attempted murder in the shooting of Yatim, 18, aboard a streetcar in July of 2013. Yatim was shot by Forcillo as he stood alone on the empty streetcar while holding a knife. 
TTC video footage shows Sammy Yatim, 18, drawing a knife on a streetcar shortly before being shot and Tasered on July 26, 2013. The trial of Const. James Forcillo, who is charged with his shooting, continues on Nov. 18. (TTC security video)

Yatim was shot eight times after he refused orders by police to drop the knife. Police also shot him with a stun gun.

On Wednesday in court, the Crown played 50 seconds of video for Warshaw, showing Forcillo arriving on the scene and shooting Sammy Yatim.

After viewing it, Warshaw told the court that Forcillo had many options at his disposal including: creating dialogue with Yatim, using pepper spray to disable Yatim, or waiting for the sergeant with a stun gun to arrive.

Warshaw acknowledged that there was a risk to attempting other de-escalation techniques, but testified that he didn't believe officers were at undue risk.

Warshaw told the court there was no tactical thinking on the scene from what he could see after reviewing the video.

Warshaw said that police yelling and using profanity is not good modern policing, saying it can elevate the anxiety of the person involved and also can elevate an officer's emotions.

Warshaw said it's best that officers stay calm, since it is hard to "climb down" from yelling and profanity to de-escalate a situation.

In earlier testimony, Warshaw did say Toronto police training is "progressive and thoughtful," especially when it comes to dealing with people in mental distress. 

'We are dealing with someone's life'

"This is not a pride game or contest, we are dealing with someone's life," Warshaw told the court. "If an officer is going to use maximum force in his approach, he has the responsibility to mix it up and use a variety of tools to de-escalate the situation so it doesn't have a violent outcome."

Warshaw told the court he has read through the testimony by Toronto's Deputy Chief Michael Federico on the use of force.

Warshaw testified police officers should be trained in de-escalation as a natural offset to the use of deadly force.

He said if a scenario can be cooled down it can preserve life. 

The use of force model used by Toronto police also requires officers to be flexible and back down if force is no longer required.

His testimony continues Thursday.