A key prosecution witness in the murder trial of Constable James Forcillo testified on Wednesday that the Toronto police officer was not justified in using lethal force against Sammy Yatim.
"There was no action plan, there was no tactical effort," said Robert Warshaw, an expert on the use of force. "It went from A to Z very quickly." The Toronto police officer had "a multiple number of options at his disposal" instead of firing his gun, he said.
Constable Forcillo is on trial on charges of second-degree murder and attempted murder in the July, 2013, death of Mr. Yatim. The 18-year-old student was brandishing a switchblade on a streetcar and refused police demands to drop it. Less than a minute after officers first arrived on the scene, Constable Forcillo fired three shots, and then six more, striking Mr. Yatim eight times. Another officer discharged his Taser as the young man lay dying inside the streetcar.
Mr. Warshaw has been called by the Crown as an expert witness as a result of his policing experience in the United States. He is a former police chief in Rochester, N.Y., and deputy chief in Miami. The jury heard he also has an extensive background in monitoring police forces in the United States in relation to the appropriate use of force.
The prosecution witness was asked a number of questions by Crown attorney Milan Rupic about the use-of-force principles that have been put in place by the Toronto police. "They are progressive and thoughtful. They are consistent with modern police agencies in the United States," Mr. Warshaw said.
One of the overriding principles is the preservation of life, which requires de-escalation tactics and a focus on "cooling down the temperature" especially with a person in crisis, he testified.
Security videos from inside the streetcar the night of the incident show that all passengers fled the vehicle after Mr. Yatim suddenly took out a switchblade with a 10-centimetre-long blade and exposed himself.
No one had been injured by Mr. Yatim, and when police arrived, he initially held up his hands for a few seconds in a surrender motion at the front of the vehicle. As police continued to shout "drop the knife," the young man refused, held it point-upward and repeatedly mocked the manhood of the officers.
Such a situation "is not a pride game. It is about human life," Mr. Warshaw said. The Crown witness explained that among the options for police were to attempt to engage Mr. Yatim in conversation.
"For starters, they could have asked, 'What's your name?'" Mr. Warshaw said.
The young man "was easily contained" as he stood near the top step of the streetcar, and the security video did not show he was a threat to the officers or the public, the witness said.
"Pointing a firearm is only half of the exercise," he said. "Guns don't talk. Police officers talk."
He was also critical of the fact that lethal force was used so quickly. "The asset they had at their disposal was time. Time was on their side. This was not a contest where they had two minutes and 20 seconds to win the game," he said.
The defence is expected to begin its cross-examination of Mr. Warshaw on Thursday.