TORONTO – Jurors began deliberating Wednesday in the case of a Toronto police officer charged with murder in the shooting death of a teen on an empty streetcar — an incident that sparked anti-police protests in the city two and a half years ago.
Const. James Forcillo has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and attempted murder in the death of 18-year-old Sammy Yatim.
Superior Court Justice Edward Then, who presided over the case, concluded his final instructions to the jury by telling them to keep an open mind to arrive at a just verdict.
“It is not enough for you to believe that officer Forcillo is probably or likely guilty,” he told the panel of 11 jurors. “The Crown must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that officer Forcillo is guilty of the offences with which he is charged.”
The core arguments of both the Crown and the defence were laid out for the jury from the very first day of the trial. Crown prosecutors argued Forcillo’s actions weren’t necessary or reasonable, while his lawyer called those actions justified and carried out in self-defence.
The bedrock of the Crown’s case is the video and audio collected from various surveillance cameras, cellphones and police radio on the night Forcillo came face-to-face with Yatim.
The jury has heard that Yatim had consumed ecstasy at some point before boarding a streetcar in July 2013. After about 10 minutes without incident, the teen exposed himself, drew a small knife and swiped it towards a young woman seated near him, court heard.
The jury has seen videos of panicked passengers rushing to get out of the streetcar as it comes to a stop while Yatim moves forward holding his knife.
Jurors heard no one was injured and that Yatim remained on the streetcar, conversing at first with the vehicle’s driver, who testified the teen asked for a phone to call his father and told him he thought people were trying to kill him.
Videos have shown Yatim’s demeanour changed when he heard approaching police sirens, prompting the streetcar driver to rush off the vehicle.
The jury has heard that Forcillo — who had been with the force for three and a half years — arrived first on scene, drew his gun and screamed repeatedly at Yatim to drop the knife. The teen refused and hurled expletives at a growing number of officers outside the streetcar.
When Yatim took a few steps back from the top of the streetcar steps, Forcillo issued a warning for the teen not to take another step forward. Yatim then moved back to where he had been standing and Forcillo fired three times, causing the teen to crumple to the floor.
The jury has heard that Forcillo fired six more shots at Yatim, who was on floor of the streetcar.
Yatim was hit by eight out of nine bullets fired by Forcillo — one in the first volley of shots caused a “catastrophic” injury to his heart killing him. He was also hit in the spine, arm, groin and abdomen area, court heard.
Forcillo took the stand in his own defence, saying he never wanted to kill anyone but feared an imminent attack from the knife-toting Yatim, which was why — in accordance with all his training — he fired his gun.
In recollecting the encounter for the jury, Forcillo said he perceived Yatim as being unafraid and ready to “fight till the end” when confronted by police.
He said his concerns appeared founded when he saw the teen jerk his switchblade towards him — a moment which convinced him Yatim was about to attack.
The Crown has called Forcillo a “hothead and a bully” who had viable alternatives to lethal force but didn’t use them.
Crown prosecutor Milan Rupic told the jury Forcillo wanted to assert his authority over a “mouthy, mocking teenager” without trying to make a connection with a person he knew was in crisis.
Conversely, Forcillo’s defence lawyer accused the Crown of trying to “criminalize a judgment call” made by a first responder.
Peter Brauti argued Forcillo was following his training and that Yatim’s own behaviour had resulted in his death.