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Officer who killed Sammy Yatim was ‘a hothead and a bully,’ Crown says

Toronto police Const. James Forcillo arrives at court for the prosecution's closing arguments in the shooting death of Sammy Yatim, in Toronto, on Jan. 6.

Nathan Denette/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Sammy Yatim was shot and killed because Constable James Forcillo lost his cool and engaged in a "verbal tug of war with a mouthy teenager" that the officer was determined to win, the Crown argued on Thursday.

"Although he was wearing the uniform of the Toronto Police Service, he did not act like a police officer that night," prosecutor Milan Rupic said in his closing submissions to the jury.

"During his standoff with Sammy Yatim, the defendant was a hothead and a bully and demanded and expected immediate submission," using his gun for intimidation, the Crown said.

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Constable Forcillo is on trial in Ontario Superior Court on charges of second-degree murder and attempted murder in the July, 2013, death of Mr. Yatim on a streetcar in Toronto's west end.

The 18-year-old high school student was hit with eight bullets fired by the officer after he mocked police and refused to drop a small switchblade he was wielding near the top step of the vehicle. Constable Forcillo shot Mr. Yatim less than 60 seconds after police arrived and with all passengers safely off the streetcar.

The Crown reminded the jury of the motto of Toronto Police Service, which is "to serve and protect."

"The guiding principle is the preservation and protection of life," Mr. Rupic said. "It also extends to someone who needs to be arrested and who may be in crisis."

In a two-day submission earlier this week, defence lawyer Peter Brauti told the jury there was unfair "Monday-morning quarterbacking" of the split-second decisions his client had to make by individuals who do not understand policing. He asked the jury to look at the "big picture."

The Crown countered with a different description of what happened that evening.

"This case is about the shooting of a young man who was clearly not well, while he was contained inside a streetcar, with officers pointing multiple guns at him. That is the big picture and it is wrong to say Sammy Yatim got himself shot," Mr. Rupic said.

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Police are permitted to use lethal force if it is reasonable and necessary to prevent someone from being seriously hurt or killed. "The word 'necessary' does not mean maybe," Mr. Rupic said.

The entire incident was captured on video images taken by onlookers and security cameras in the streetcar. "The evidentiary bedrock of the Crown's case is the audio and video recordings of the event," Mr. Rupic said.

The videos show that Constable Forcillo immediately drew his weapon and aimed it at Mr. Yatim, yelling "drop the knife" in a loud voice as the young man refused and paced slowly near the first row of seats of the streetcar. The young man used an epithet more than once that mocked officers' manhood.

Nothing in the tone of voice of Mr. Yatim suggested he was threatening or was a risk to anyone outside the vehicle, the Crown said.

"He was acting like a punk, but it was the defendant who turned up the temperature" when he threatened to shoot Mr. Yatim if he took a step forward, Mr. Rupic said. The young man moved forward about 50 centimetres, and the officer fired nine shots in two volleys, hitting him eight times.

Far from police expertise being necessary, any parent would know what should have been done to de-escalate the situation, the Crown said. "It is a parent's greatest tool. To calm someone down who is agitated, you talk nicely to them," he said.

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The Crown will finish its closing arguments on Friday, and the jury is expected to begin deliberations next week.

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