A Toronto police officer who, a day earlier, was sentenced to six years for killing an 18-year-old in a hail of bullets on a downtown streetcar has been granted bail as he appeals a conviction of attempted murder.
Justice Eileen Gillese determined that Toronto Police Constable James Forcillo "poses no risk as there is no risk that he would commit further offences" in a Friday morning ruling.
A condition of Constable Forcillo's bail is that he surrender himself on Nov. 9. Justice Gillese said that before that date, both sides should update the presiding judge on the status of the appeal. The surrender date can be modified, she said.
Three years ago, Constable Forcillo, 33, fired a deadly barrage into the body of Sammy Yatim who brandished a switchblade on the streetcar – an incident captured on video that fanned public uproar.
In an unprecedented case, Ontario Court Justice Edward Then sentenced Mr. Forcillo on Thursday for failing to exercise proper judgment when confronting a distressed individual, calling his use of force "unreasonable, unnecessary and excessive."
Justice Then argued that de-escalation tactics should have been employed, and that such force must only be used when all else fails.
In no way does bail imply "special treatment," however, says Daniel Brown, a criminal lawyer in Toronto.
"[Mr. Forcillo's] appeal isn't a frivolous one and he's been compliant with bail," he says. "It's not unusual that somebody is sentenced and then immediately has a bail pending appeal hearing."
Although Ari Goldkind, a Toronto defence laywer, doesn't personally agree with Justice Gillese, "as a defence lawyer, if there are reasonable, non-frivolous grounds of appeal, I would rather live in a society that lets an accused person pursue every reasonable avenue to their freedom than one that rushes to judgment."
The video of the incident shows Constable Forcillo firing three deadly shots at Mr. Yatim after he refused to drop his blade. An interval of six seconds passes and Mr. Forcillo fires a second volley without moving from his position or communicating with Mr. Yatim.
The video demonstrates that Constable Forcillo is a "bully-cop who, when he feels disrespected, pumps nine bullets into a boy who was no threat to him," said Mr. Goldkind.
A jury in January found the constable not guilty on a charge of second-degree murder for the initial, lethal volley. However, it determined that the firing of the six additional bullets, and what happened in between the two bursts, warranted the conviction of attempted murder.
Constable Forcillo testified he delivered another volley because Mr. Yatim purportedly rearmed himself and posed a continued threat.
Justice Then said the young man was a "potential threat," not an "imminent threat," arguing that officers are trained to refrain from making such flash decisions.
The defence suggested that there shouldn't have been a separate charge for the last six shots because there was less than six seconds' pause between the first and second round.
Justice Gillese found that to be a strong enough reason for a potential appeal.
After the sentencing, Toronto police suspended Constable Forcillo without pay, according to police spokesman Mark Pugash.
Police Chief Mark Saunders said in a statement that the officer still faces a disciplinary matter in the Toronto Police Service Tribunal, but declined to comment on the criminal case.
Saunders's predecessor, Bill Blair, launched a review of officers' use of force and their response to emotionally disturbed people after the shooting.
With a report from The Canadian Press