Police Abuse

Toronto Cop Convicted of Attempted Murder in 2012 Fatal Shooting of Sammy Yatim

Attorney argues the state trained the officer to do what he did, so was not entitled to seek to convict him for it.


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An update on a 2012 fatal police shooting in Toronto we covered when it first happened—James Forcillo, the officer who fired nine rounds at 18-year-old Sammy Yatim as the teen wielded a switchblade on an empty streetcar, has been found guilty of attempted murder. He was, however, found not guilty on charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter.

The Toronto Star explains:

The jury's verdicts, delivered after 35 hours of deliberations, mean that Forcillo shooting the 18-year-old Yatim three times—fatally in the heart—is not a criminal act…

However, they clearly found that the second volley of shots fired five-and-a-half seconds later was neither justifiable or in self-defence. The finding of guilt suggests the jury felt Yatim was no longer a threat when Forcillo fired at him six times, striking him five times in his lower part of his paralyzed body but not causing the fatal injuries that led to his death, possibly before he was Tasered by another officer.

Forcillo is expected to appeal the verdict, on an "abuse of process" claim, a cause of action similar to "malicious prosecution" but involving the abuse of the legal process after initial charges are filed.

"Forcillo substantially followed the police training he was given," [defense attorney Peter] Brauti told reporters, according to Vice. "And so if the state gave him that training, they should not be entitled to a conviction in the matter."

Forcillo's attorney also said he would challenge the constitutionality of the mandatory minimum law that requires people convicted of second-degree murder to receive at least a four-year prison sentence. Forcillo could actually face a five year minimum because his was a "restricted" firearm.

Brauti insists Yatim "got himself shot." Forcillo claimed that he believed Yatim had sat up at a 45 degree angle preparing to attack again after he had been shot three times in the heart, saying that justified the last six shots. Less than thirty seconds after Forcillo finished shooting Yatim, officers also tased the 18-year-old.

It was also revealed in the course of the trial that the Toronto police had identified Forcillo through an early warning system designed to track how often officers rely on their firerm. The system flags officers who point their gun at someone more than three times in a 12-month period. Forcillo was flagged twice in a three and a half year period in which he pulled his firearm "about a dozen times." Only nine of the more than 5,000 Toronto cops on the job in 2013 pulled their firearm more than three times while on duty—Forcillo was one.

Yet that system, largely because of strong protections for public employees in Canada, was not used to root out and remove problem officers before they misuse their firearm, but rather to direct them toward counseling. The police department failed to do even that with Forcillo.

At the time of Yatim's shooting, multiple government officials, including the Ontario ombudsman Andre Martin, promised their own investigation. For his part, Martin's investigation did not appear to have been brought to a conclusion before Martin left office last year. In the meantime, the police shooting last year of two black men in Ontario (one in Toronto), which garnered broader attention because of the emergence of the Black Lives Movement in the intervening years, led Martin to propose tougher measures against officers who refuse to cooperate with investigations of police shootings.