Toronto officer charged in Sammy Yatim shooting will not ‘run or hide’

The Globe and Mail

Toronto Police Constable James Forcillo is escorted to a vehicle from a Toronto court. He has been released on bail. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)

The officer charged with second-degree murder in the shooting death of a Toronto teenager inched forward through a phalanx of media cameras Tuesday as he left the courthouse, released on bail.

Constable James Forcillo stared straight ahead, refusing to address reporters, but his presence in front of the cameras spoke volumes.

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His lawyer, Peter Brauti, had announced before the hearing that his client would not “run or hide,” and that he was innocent until proven guilty in the on-duty shooting of Sammy Yatim, 18.

The story of Mr. Yatim, who had brandished a knife on a downtown streetcar in late July, and died in hospital after being shot at nine times and tasered by police, has riveted the public. Cellphone videos showing the teen being shot as he stood alone on the streetcar went viral, and several formal inquiries have begun into police use-of-force protocols.

Although Constable Forcillo, 30, was charged Monday after a probe by Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit, he was not taken into custody until a day later.

Julian Falconer, a civil-rights lawyer, said this is cause for concern – the average citizen would be charged and arrested the same day. He also noted the Crown “almost never” consents to bail on a murder charge, but “almost always” consents to bail in cases involving police officers.

Mr. Falconer cautioned, however, that Constable Forcillo’s treatment may not be the result of his status as a police officer.

“In these circumstances of a high-profile case with a particularly vivid account of a killing, there are health and safety issues for the accused person whether they are a police officer or not. I have had clients who have needed protections above and beyond the standard because of threats to their lives during the course of a very difficult proceeding,” Mr. Falconer said.

Mike McCormack, president of the Toronto Police Association, had said earlier that Constable Forcillo had received death threats.

Constable Forcillo is the second on-duty Toronto police officer to be charged with murder in the SIU’s 23-year history. As a condition of his bail, he cannot posses firearms and must surrender his passport to the SIU. He cannot leave the province without written permission from the Crown.

Mr. Brauti said it was appropriate for his client 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,” Mr. Brauti said. “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.”

He would not expand on this, saying only that it would touch too closely on evidence that will be revealed during the trial.

Constable Forcillo, an officer for six years and a father of two, is not and was never the subject of a Toronto Police Services disciplinary hearing, according to police spokesman Mark Pugash. “There are no active cases before the tribunal, and there were no completed cases before the tribunal,” he said. The tribunal is a quasi-judicial forum where allegations of Police Services Act breaches are adjudicated.

Bail has been set at $510,500, with Constable Forcillo’s wife, Irina, listed as the primary surety. His in-laws, and a fellow officer whose address is listed as the 12 Division police station on a public court document, also shoulder the responsibility if Constable Forcillo does not abide by his bail conditions.

He has been suspended with pay since Mr. Yatim’s death.

Around 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, a black SUV pulled up to the Forcillo home and appeared to drop the couple off at their door. Constable Forcillo’s wife, a brunette still in the black dress she wore to his morning appearance, answered the door as she slipped off her heels. Constable Forcillo, no longer in the suit jacket he wore to his pair of appearances on Tuesday, stood in the background and said the family would not answer questions, referring queries to the Toronto Police Association.

Two police cars were parked outside the Forcillo home, where the curtains were drawn. Children’s toys – a plastic buggy among them – sat at the side door.

A tenant of Constable Forcillo’s in-laws said he did not know the officer was the one who had been charged in Mr. Yatim’s shooting.

Describing Constable Forcillo as a “good guy,” he said, “I don’t think this guy can do this thing.”

Mr. Brauti 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,” Mr. Brauti said.

A pretrial hearing is scheduled for Sept. 30 at 9 a.m.

The Yatim family had scheduled a news conference to discuss the case Wednesday afternoon, but cancelled it late Tuesday night saying that the recent events had struck them "to the core," and they did not have the energy to go through with it after all.