With the practised hands of a professional, Nick Smilis pulled the slide on the pistol, raised it shoulder-high and pulled the trigger.
The last time he saw the same gun used this way, it actually went off, and a 42-year-old father named John O'Keefe lost his life. This time, in a Toronto courtroom, it just went "click."
Constable Smilis, a young York Region police officer, was off duty and on Yonge Street with friends just after 1 a.m. on Jan. 12, 2008. On Thursday, he told a Superior Court jury how a sidewalk altercation, between bouncers from the Brass Rail strip club and two young men they'd just ejected, ended in a shooting that killed Mr. O'Keefe, an innocent man walking up the street.
Edward Paredes, 24, and Awet Zekarias, 25, are on trial for second-degree murder. The Crown contends Mr. Paredes, at Mr. Zekarias's repeated urging, fired a shot at the bouncers but instead struck Mr. O'Keefe in the head, killing him instantly.
Constable Smilis's brief account of the shooting, which he augmented with a confronting demonstration of Mr. Paredes's nine-millimetre Baby Desert Eagle handgun, was replete with signs of his recent training as a police officer.
These lessons kicked in, Constable Smilis said, as the two men made their way south and past him and his friends on Yonge Street from the direction of the Brass Rail. He heard Mr. Zekarias say to Mr. Paredes, "If you're not going to do it, give it to me and I'll do it; we spent a lot of money in there," and he saw a gun in Mr. Paredes's hand. Court has heard he loaded the gun by "racking the slide" as he went, then concealed it in a waist-mounted holster.
"I was only trained one way to deal with a person with a knife or firearm, and that is with my firearm," the officer said, but since he was unarmed, he had only one option: "I knew I had to call 911."
As Constable Smilis crossed Yonge Street, intending to call 911 on his cellphone, he looked back to mentally record the appearance of Mr. Paredes and Mr. Zekarias, still walking south away from the strip club. "That's when I saw a bouncer exit the Brass Rail," the officer told court. "He had a silver object in his hand and he kind of raised it up."
The bouncer, the Crown contends, found a cellphone he thought belonged to Mr. Paredes or Mr. Zekarias, and went outside to alert them. When the bouncer called out, Constable Smilis said, the two alleged assailants turned around and "as soon as they saw the silver object," began heading back toward the bar.
Constable Smilis saw Mr. Paredes reach with his right hand towards his left waistband and retrieve the gun. Then he heard the telltale click-click sound as Mr. Paredes "racked the slide" once more.
"Someone else might not know the sound, but I do," the officer said. "I know it from my training as a police officer; I hear it every day."
With that, Constable Smilis picked up the gun - now a tagged piece of evidence - racked the slide and raised it the way he saw Mr. Paredes do so on Yonge Street. "He then pulls the trigger," the officer told court, and "his hand snaps back" from the recoil.
Constable Smilis simultaneously heard another sound, "the explosion of a gun being fired," which he substituted with a harmless click of the trigger in court yesterday.
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