Constable James Forcillo, the Toronto police officer charged in the death of a teenager who brandished a small knife on a streetcar, has been granted bail in the amount of $510,000.
Four people, including Constable Forcillo's wife and in-laws, as well as a Toronto police officer, have been listed as sureties.
Constable Forcillo, 30, was released on bail Tuesday afternoon. He left the courthouse on University Avenue just before 3:15 p.m., surrounded by media as he made his way to a black van - different from the white unmarked one he arrived in for his initial court appearance at Old City Hall.
Defense lawyer Peter Brauti said his client is presumed innocent till proven otherwise, and that it was appropriate for Constable Forcillo to be granted bail.
"He's somebody with no criminal record, he has an excellent policing background and so, he's somebody who should be released," said Mr. Brauti. "I haven't seen all the videos and as everyone knows, when you look at something from one perspective, then look at it from a different perspective, it shows something completely different."
As a condition of bail, Constable Forcillo cannot leave the province of Ontario without written permission from the Crown.
A publication ban, automatically placed on all pre-trial hearings, prevents media from reporting on the details of the proceedings orany evidence presented.
A court date has also been set for Sept. 30 at 9 a.m., for a judicial pretrial hearing to set the court schedule.
Mr. Brauti said that he and the Crown's counsel, John Patton, had barely slept in the last 24 hours trying to draft the bail conditions and agree to them.
He said that Constable Forcillo, like other people he has represented in cases involving death, is in a "very sombre mood."
"Anybody who's involved in a loss of life incident, whether you're right or whether you're wrong, when you're involved in a loss of life incident, the gravity of it is incredible," said Mr. Brauti.
Mr. McCormack said that there is still concern for Constable Forcillo's safety because he has been receiving death threats. However, he concurred with Mr. Brauti that obtaining bail was the right thing to do.
"We don't keep people in custody because their lives are being threatened. That's not how we operate," said Mr. McCormack.
Constable Forcillo, who was transported to the courthouse in handcuffs, didn’t speak at the initial hearing, and was brought in and out of the courtroom through a door alongside the justice. None of Sammy Yatim’s family appeared to be present.
A brunette woman in a black dress and black sunglasses who is believed to be Constable Forcillo’s wife was escorted by a police officer in civilian clothes down the front steps of Old City Hall. She remained silent as she walked from the court house into the Eaton Centre.
Earlier, in front of those same steps, a young woman wearing a hijab sported a black t-shirt with the words “9 shots” and a question mark, above a picture of Sammy Yatim.
Mr. Brauti and Mike McCormack, president of the Toronto Police Association, spoke with journalists after the court appearance.
“He’s very upset and in shock, quite honestly,” said Mr. Brauti. “As I said, it’s been very trying on him and his family. Definitely stressful.”
When asked how other Toronto police officers are digesting the proceedings, Mr. McCormack said: “We’re disappointed. It’s never good when we have one of our officers charged, especially with a charge like second-degree murder. But we’re a professional group of people and we’ll get through this.”
Constable Forcillo was the sole subject of an investigation by the Special Investigations Unit, a provincial agency that probes civilian deaths involving police. The investigation concluded yesterday with SIU director, Ian Scott laying a second-degree murder charge against Constable Forcillo.
The charge is in connection to the July 26 incident when Sammy Yatim, 18, pulled out a three-inch blade on a westbound Dundas streetcar near Trinity Bellwoods Park. The passengers and driver fled the vehicle unharmed leaving Mr. Yatim behind. When police arrived, a witness video of the incident shows a verbal interaction between Mr. Yatim and officers on the ground. The teen can be seen taking a step forward at which time an officer fires three gun shots at Mr. Yatim, at which point he falls to the floor. After a pause, six more shots are fired at Mr. Yatim. Following this, an officer can be heard using a taser in the video.
The SIU did not investigate the officer who deployed the taser because it determined only one officer contributed to Mr. Yatim’s death.
Yesterday, Mr. Yatim’s family released a statement to say they were relieved with news of the second-degree murder charge laid against Constable Forcillo. While they have said consistently since his death that they bear no “ill will” against police officers in general, their statement yesterday was critical of all the officers who were on the scene at the time of the shooting.
“Our family hopes that the SIU investigation will continue looking into the actions of the supervising police officer(s) and the other officers in attendance for their lack of intervention in this tragedy,” read the statement. “Over 20 uniformed police officers were present and no one stepped forward to stop the gun shots or offer any mediation. Moving forward we expect complete transparency and accountability.”
Constable Forcillo is the second Toronto police officer to be charged with murder by the SIU in its 23-year history. He has been suspended with pay since Mr. Yatim’s death.
Toronto Constable David Cavanagh, who is also being represented by Mr. Brauti, was charged with murder in the 2010 shooting death of a Nigerian-born father during a struggle. In March, a provincial court judge ruled there was no evidence to show Constable Cavanagh’s gun was discharged deliberately and dismissed the murder charge. The Crown is seeking to appeal the judge’s decision.
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