Among the many questions surrounding Sammy Yatim’s death, his family is wondering why he was tasered as he lay on the floor of a streetcar after police had already shot him multiple times.
Mr. Yatim’s sister told The Globe and Mail this is bothering the family, as well why the police fired nine shots at the 18-year-old on a Dundas streetcar.
“We are talking about these things with the family and lawyers,” said Mr. Yatim’s sister Sarah on Friday. “Everything bothers us.”
Mr. Yatim was shot last Saturday after witnesses said he pulled out a knife on a westbound streetcar near Trinity Bellwoods park. He appears to crumple to the floor after three shots were fired, in surveillance video of the scene. Six more shots were fired and after that, he was tasered. Officers can be heard shouting on the video “drop the knife” even as the sound of the taser could be heard.
Toronto police Constable James Forcillo is being investigated by the province’s Special Investigations Unit for the shooting, but the officer who tasered Mr. Yatim is not the subject of an investigation. Instead, he is one of 22 witness officers the SIU is interviewing as part of its probe.
When asked by The Globe why the sergeant who deployed the taser was not a subject of investigation, SIU spokeswoman Monica Hudon said: “We are of the view that only one subject officer caused Mr. Yatim’s death. Accordingly, one officer has been designated as the subject officer.”
But prominent Toronto lawyer Julian Falconer says that because Mr. Yatim was alive, the act of tasering him should be investigated as an alleged assault.
“If that’s the case, certainly the issue could arise as to use of excessive force that could constitute an assault,” said Mr. Falconer, who has represented the family of Edmond Yu, a 35-year-old paranoid schizophrenic who was fatally shot by police on an empty Toronto city bus in 1997 while wielding a hammer. “No officer is entitled to use an item like a taser unless it’s reasonable in the circumstance. And it stands to reason that an individual who has been shot at multiple times is hardly a candidate to be tasered.”
Mr. Falconer said that it is still possible for the officer who tasered Mr. Yatim to be re-designated as a subject officer down the road as the SIU investigation progresses.
Toronto EMS spokesperson Kim McKinnon confirmed that Mr. Yatim was still alive as he was being lifted off the streetcar by paramedics.
“We transported him to hospital in life-threatening condition,” Ms. McKinnon said.
At the hospital, Mr. Yatim was transferred to the care of an emergency physician on call, she said.
A source told The Globe and Mail that Const. Forcillo had requested a taser before shots were fired – a weapon given only to supervisors and emergency task force members. Mike McCormack, president of the Toronto Police Association, confirmed that the officer who fired the taser was a sergeant.
Peter Rosenthal, a University of Toronto law professor and defence lawyer, said that because Mr. Yatim had already sustained multiple gunshot wounds, the taser may not have contributed much, if at all, to his death, and this may be why the tasering officer is not a subject in the SIU investigation. However, he said the tasering in these circumstances could be seen as an assault.
Ms. Yatim and her mother, Sahar Bahadi, said that Mr. Yatim’s father, Nabil, who could not be reached for comment, has been handling discussions with the lawyers, and they did not know the specifics of these discussions.
With files from Jill Mahoney