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A Toronto Police badge is seen in this file photo. (Mark Blinch For The Globe and Mail)
A Toronto Police badge is seen in this file photo. (Mark Blinch For The Globe and Mail)

North York

Friend of Sammy Yatim dies in police shooting Add to ...

Unlike Sammy Yatim’s final moments, the fatal police shooting of one of his friends late Sunday night happened in darkness and without a multitude of witnesses recording events by cellphone.

There likely will be little video footage or other evidence to prove or disprove what police say happened before 21-year-old Alex Wettlaufer died in an unlit North York park. Toronto police officers believed “absolutely” that Mr. Wettlaufer was armed, a police source said.

A family member was on the phone with him when he was shot, said one of Mr. Wettlaufer’s brothers. Based on the audio from that call, the family believes officers mistook his cellphone for a gun, said the brother.

“He held his hands up and said ‘I only have a phone’ – [then] boom, boom, boom,” he said on Monday, as family and friends gathered near the family’s home.

Like Mr. Yatim, shot by police on a streetcar in 2013, Mr. Wettlaufer was also near public-transit video surveillance in the minutes before his death. But that may not help, said a source from the Toronto Transit Commission, who said there’s a large “blind spot” at the North York station where Mr. Wettlaufer first came into contact with police, and it’s unclear if he was captured on video.

Mr. Wettlaufer, the second-youngest of 10 siblings who grew up in a public-housing complex a few minutes from where he was killed, had no police record, the brother said.

He went to high school with Mr. Yatim, who was shot and killed by police in 2013. A friend of Mr. Yatim’s said he and Mr. Wettlaufer knew each other but weren’t very close. In Mr. Yatim’s death, Constable James Forcillo was convicted this winter of attempted murder and found not guilty of second-degree murder.

Police believed they were responding to a gun threat when they went to Leslie Street transit station, just across from the park, at around 11:15 p.m. Sunday. On Twitter, they wrote that they were responding to Leslie Street and Sheppard Avenue after a report that two men were fighting, one of them armed with a gun.

What happened after that is unclear. On Monday, the Special Investigations Unit said that “preliminary information” suggested one of the men from the fight had fled on foot into a nearby park, where there was a confrontation with officers and “a police firearm was discharged.” The man was pronounced dead at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.

The SIU, the arms-length watchdog that investigates all deaths involving the police, didn’t say Monday whether a weapon had been found after Mr. Wettlaufer’s death or whether one had been reported present.

Neighbours and family of Mr. Wettlaufer insisted Monday that he was quiet, not violent, and that he worked at a full-time job at a warehouse and kept to himself within the neighbourhood.

The paved path through the bottom end of the park, where there are no streetlights, is his normal shortcut home from the subway, they said.

Investigators visited the Leslie Street station Monday to take a preliminary look at its surveillance system, said a source with the TTC.

However, the transit worker on duty at the station on Sunday night, with access to live video surveillance, had said he hadn’t been aware of any fight at the time, said the source.

Though there are several surveillance cameras at Leslie Street station, there is also a large area they don’t capture upstairs, where the fight is said to have happened, said the TTC source.

If the fight happened outside, near where buses stop, it also wouldn’t have been captured on video.

On Monday, family said they were furious about the police’s decision to shoot.

“What happened to those stun guns?” Mr. Wettlaufer’s stepsister, Brenda, said.

“It would be a nightmare for a mother. Hearing your son get shot on the phone? That would just kill me.”

Mr. Wettlaufer’s cousin, Robert, said he hopes the officers involved were part of a Toronto Police Service project to record officers’ movements through body-worn cameras.

“We’re lucky if it is one of those cops wearing a camera,” he said. “But only a small minority of them have it.”

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