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.

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  1. And so if the state gave him that training, they should not be entitled to a conviction in the matter.

    Or perhaps more people should be held accountable.

    1. That’s crazy talk! They should receive meta-training!

  2. Canada has mandatory minimums too? Why must you guys only copy our worst aspects?

    1. And vice-versa.

      It’s the strangest thing.

    2. They judges are ignoring/repealing them piecemeal.

  3. 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.

    The cop was lucky to survive an encounter with a superhuman like that.

  4. I lived in Toronto in 2012 when this shooting… sorry, “attempted murder” occurred.

    When the papers published Forcillo’s photograph, my immediate reaction was, “Holy shit, I’ve seen that guy before.” Not absolutely certain, but I’d say 90+% confidence.

    It was barely a couple of weeks earlier, that I was walking to my favourite lunch spot (now closed) on Yonge Street. There was a police cruiser sitting in front of the burger joint next door (holychuckburgers.com/ also amazing but a bit excessive for lunch), with its flashers on, backing up traffic for blocks.

    As I was walking past on the sidewalk, a uniformed officer casually walked out of the burger joint with his lunch and headed back to his car, entirely indifferent to the fact that he was illegally parked, blocking half of a busy street, and obviously abusing his authority.

    He noticed me looking at him with extreme disapproval. And he gave me a flippant grin and an arrogant, mock-salute, before he got back in his vehicle and drove off. Because I was so angry, I remembered his face… and was immediately sorry that I hadn’t filmed him.

    And then I saw what looked like the same guy in the papers a few weeks later. If it was indeed the same officer (I’m not 100% confident), then the city is much better off without him and his attitude.

    1. He’s no King of Kensington.

    2. Had you filmed that psychopath you might be dead.

    3. “indifferent to the fact that he was illegally parked, blocking half of a busy street, and obviously abusing his authority.”

      Indifferent? I bet he had a semi.

  5. From reading the articles linked, it’s clear that Yatim was mentally ill or under the influence of a psychotropic drug.

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

    Huh?

    1. Canadian equivalent of under-charging?

    2. He died from the first volley, which was ruled justified. The second volley is what got him in hot water. At least, that’s what I can tell.

  7. “Brauti insists Yatim “got himself shot.”

    Is that a fact, huh.

  8. Some context:

    Witnesses say the teenager brandished a knife and exposed himself on a westbound Dundas St. streetcar just after midnight Saturday. No one was hurt and all the passengers were able to exit the TTC vehicle.

    The 18-year-old had left his home in June after disagreements with his father over smoking pot and not having a steady job, friends say. He was struggling to live independently and get his life on track.

    Some friends remember Yatim, who moved here from Syria five years ago, as hard-working and bound for a health care management program at George Brown College in September. Others say he had fallen in with the wrong crowd and was always armed with a knife.

    And to preempt the inevitable responses: no, I am not defending what the police did, or saying he “deserved it.” But many tragedies are multi-causal. If you brandish a knife in public, it greatly increases your risk that police will overreact.

    1. I’m not sure I understand the cop-hate on this forum. If someone brandished a knife against me, and I had a gun, I’d stop shooting when they stopped moving. So why is a cop different? I guess people figure cops should be more careful, or have better training to allow them to react with less deadly force, or have tools like tasers that help them avoid lethal force, etc. But any rulings made against cops w.r.t. deadly force can have a knock-on effect against civilians defending themselves, I’d think.

      1. …any rulings made against cops w.r.t. deadly force can have a knock-on effect against civilians defending themselves, I’d think

        In the U.S., perhaps. In Canada, our “right to self-defense” is already de facto non-existent, most of the time. It’s quite routine for a Canadian defending themselves against an attacker to also be charged with an offense under the Criminal Code.

        After all, How dare we arrogate to ourselves the use of force in defense of our person, when the ever-loving arms of the State are always wrapped around us, protecting us from the big baddies out there!

      2. He shot him nine times, and that’s nuts.

        1. AFTER he was already down.

  9. Oops, the links didn’t happen. Both are from Toronto Star articles.

  10. “… 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.”

    That’s because “pointing a firearm” is itself a criminal offence in Canada:

    1. …”pointing a firearm” is itself a criminal offence in Canada…

      True, but the statute also states that it’s a criminal offense if the pointing is done “without lawful excuse.” I would assume that there’s a presumption of “lawfulness” when a cop does it. A buddy of mine who worked as a municipal cop in Alberta told me that the real reason cops are hesitant to pull is because they have to fill out an incident report afterwards, which apparently is a huge PITA.

  11. “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.”

    Procedures were followed until it became inconvenient.

    Given only a handful were flagged one would think it would be easy for them to pull Forcillo off the streets and properly deal with him – which makes this incident all the more tragic because they could have avoided it.

  12. “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-defense.”

    Wait, what? Shooting a dead person is unnecessary, for sure, but what’s the difference at that point? But then the article goes on to imply that the man was still alive after being shot in the heart. Surely that’s not possible?

  13. “And so if the state gave him that training, they should not be entitled to a conviction in the matter.”

    He was just following orders.

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