Constable James Forcillo has been identified as the Toronto police officer who fatally shot Sammy Yatim on a city streetcar – an incident that has riveted the country and ignited fervent debate about use of deadly force.
Peter Brauti, a defence lawyer with extensive experience representing city officers accused of wrongdoing, told The Globe and Mail that he is representing Mr. Forcillo and that his client is the subject of the province’s Special Investigations Unit probe.
Mr. Forcillo, a married father of a small child, has been suspended with pay since Monday. He is included on the province’s list of public employees who make more than $100,000, having been paid $106,801 in 2012.
Toronto Police Service and the Toronto Police Association had previously refused to identify him other than to say he was a six-year veteran of the force.
Mr. Brauti, however, said it was his understanding that while Mr. Forcillo has been employed by Toronto Police for six years, he spent two or three of those years as a court officer. Court officers are unarmed civilian employees who are not sworn officers of the law.
Responding to questions about Mr. Forcillo’s state of mind, Mr. Brauti said his client was “devastated.”
“All he can do at this point is wait for the investigative process to unfold, and he is hopeful that people will not rush to judgement in assessing his actions,” Mr. Brauti said. “There is a lot of evidence that people are not yet privy to about the incident.”
Whether Mr. Forcillo will co-operate with the provincial probe into his deadly confrontation with Mr. Yatim early Saturday remains an open question.
He has been labelled as the sole “subject officer” of the SIU probe, meaning the agency believes his conduct killed Mr. Yatim. The SIU has identified 22 “witness officers,” including the officer who deployed a taser on Mr. Yatim after he was shot inside the streetcar.
“We are of the view that only one subject officer caused Mr. Yatim’s death,” said SIU spokeswoman Monica Hudon.
By law, “witness officers” are compelled to sit for interviews with SIU investigators and provide their notes, but “subject officers” are not. As the focus of an SIU inquiry that could result in criminal charges, “subject officers” have a legal right to refuse to offer evidence that could incriminate them.
Mr. Brauti said it was too early to decide whether he would advise his client to submit to an interview.
Most Toronto police officers under SIU scrutiny invoke their right to stay silent. As many as two-thirds of “subject officers” from the Toronto Police Service reportedly declined to submit to an interview and turn over notes in recent years.
“For a subject officer, [participating with SIU] is up to their discretion,” said Toronto Police Association president Mike McCormack. “Just like anyone else in an investigation. It’s a criminal investigation. [Mr. Forcillo] has got counsel and that’ll be a decision he makes with his counsel.”
Mr. Brauti has defended officers involved in some high-profile cases, including Mr. McCormack and his brother, William McCormack Jr., in separate cases involving corruption allegations. The charges against them were eventually dropped.
In June, Constable Glenn Weddell, a client of Mr. Brauti’s, was acquitted on charges that he assaulted a G20 protester by striking him with a riot shield and baton at the Queen’s Park demonstration in 2010.
Mr. Brauti is currently defending Constable Paul Ramos, whose trial with fellow officer Constable Manpreet Kharbar was adjourned last week until fall. The two are accused of beating up a man in a search room at a police station after they had arrested him for assaulting a parking enforcement officer.