The Toronto police officer on trial in the shooting death of Sammy Yatim testified on Friday that his own safety was paramount in his mind that evening.
"Police officers don't get paid to get stabbed or get shot. They are paid to go home in one piece," Constable James Forcillo said during the first day of his cross-examination. "One way or the other, I was going to go home that evening."
Mr. Yatim was struck eight times when Constable Forcillo fired an initial volley of three shots and then six more at the 18-year-year-old, who was wielding a switchblade on an empty Toronto streetcar in the west end of the city.
The officer stressed that he never intended to use lethal force during the confrontation just after midnight on July 27, 2013, but the high school student repeatedly refused demands to drop his knife. In reference to what led to the officer firing his gun, "that was Mr. Yatim's decision," Constable Forcillo said.
The officer is charged with second-degree murder and attempted murder. The murder charge relates to the first three shots, which the Ontario Superior Court jury has been told were the cause of death. The second volley is the basis of the attempted murder charge, since none of those shots was the cause of death.
Constable Forcillo has testified that he acted lawfully in firing the first three shots. He continued to fire, he said, because he believed Mr. Yatim posed a risk as he lay on the floor of the streetcar. The jury must decide if the actions and beliefs of the officer, even if mistaken, were reasonable.
Several TTC surveillance videos of the incident and images taken by onlookers have been shown to the jury. Constable Forcillo testified that he has watched them several times to refresh his memory of the events.
The videos show the officer immediately pulling out his gun and yelling at Mr. Yatim to drop the knife. Within 50 seconds of arriving on the scene, Constable Forcillo opens fire as the young man walks toward the front of the streetcar. A prosecution expert who created a computer model of the scene testified that the officer and Mr. Yatim were just under five metres apart when the first shot was fired.
Constable Forcillo is heard on the videos stating that if Mr. Yatim took another step, the officer would shoot. "It was not a threat. It was a warning," the officer said during cross-examination by Crown attorney Milan Rupic.
In a cross-examination that alternated from being combative to polite, the prosecutor and officer agreed upon little of substance.
When the Crown attorney suggested the officer made no attempt to de-escalate the situation, as his police training requires, Constable Forcillo disagreed. "Pointing a firearm is considered a part of de-escalation," he said.
The officer also rejected the prosecution's claim that the orders to Mr. Yatim were "barked" at the young man. "I talked to Mr. Yatim the way I felt I needed to talk to him," Constable Forcillo said.
During one heated exchange, Mr. Rupic and Constable Forcillo talked over each other after the officer testified about being trained to win, in potentially dangerous situations.
"You're not there to win," the prosecutor said.
"I disagree completely. You are trained to win the situation so we all go home safely," Constable Forcillo said.
The cross-examination resumes Monday.