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Toronto Toronto officer says he tased Sammy Yatim to get medical help faster

Sammy Yatim boards a streetcar in Toronto on July 26, 2013, in this still taken from a court handout surveillance video.

Ontario Superior Court of Justice/THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO

The Toronto police officer who discharged his taser at Sammy Yatim after he had been shot eight times testified on Wednesday that he was trying to help the young man.

"I would rather be criticized for trying to help somebody than to stand by and let them die," said Sergeant Dusan (Dan) Pravica, explaining that the use of the taser would result in quicker medical attention.

The sergeant arrived on the scene of a confrontation between Mr. Yatim and Toronto police about 30 seconds after Constable James Forcillo had fired nine shots, hitting the 18-year-old student eight times inside a streetcar. The incident occurred just after midnight on July 27, 2013, in the city's west end. Constable Forcillo is on trial on charges of second-degree murder and attempted murder in the death of Mr. Yatim.

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Constable Forcillo and three other officers can be seen on surveillance video from the streetcar, standing outside and continuing to shout at Mr. Yatim to drop his switchblade. The video images do not clearly show Mr. Yatim's actions after he was shot other than some writhing of his upper body.

The security video shows that Sgt. Pravica pushed aside his colleagues, walked briskly up into the streetcar, yelled at Mr. Yatim to drop his knife and then discharged the taser for five seconds. He then kicked the knife out the young man's right hand. At this point, other officers boarded the vehicle and handcuffed Mr. Yatim.

Sgt. Pravica said police could have waited until "he bled out" and the situation was safe, but he decided to move quickly to immobilize Mr. Yatim and end the danger so he could get medical attention.

The veteran officer insisted Mr. Yatim, who was partly paralyzed from the first three shots, was still a threat. "My adrenalin was pumping," said Sgt. Pravica, who indicated he was not worried for his own safety because other officers were behind him, with guns pointed toward the streetcar entrance.

Mr. Yatim continued to point his knife at the officer as he boarded the streetcar, Sgt. Pravica said. "He was trying to do a crunch [to sit up]. He was making a guttural sound." The officer then tried to imitate it for the jury.

"I didn't see any blood. There was no pool of blood," the officer said. Instead, he saw one bullet that was half in and half out of the victim's lower torso. "It was one of the oddest things I have ever seen," said Sgt. Pravic, a stocky officer who is about 6'2" tall.

It was only as he boarded the streetcar that he was told Mr. Yatim had been shot, but he said he did not know how many times. "It left me with no choice but to use the taser," Sgt. Pravica said. "I have no idea if he is playing possum. He is attempting to get up. He is not putting his hands up, saying I give up, the fun is over."

Crown attorney Ian Bulmer questioned the officer's account in a combative cross-examination and suggested Mr. Yatim was not attacking but in the process of dying.

"You work in a courtroom. I work in the streets," Sgt. Pravica replied. "How could I know he was dying? He wasn't saying he was dying."

The use of lethal force, such as a handgun, is not always a guarantee of stopping an individual, the officer added. "Sometimes, people keep going and going. Sometimes even after they are clinically dead," Sgt. Pravica testified. The officer was not asked to clarify that comment.

The jury heard that a complaint was filed with a civilian police oversight agency over the sergeant's use of the taser. Sgt. Pravica said it was filed by the family of Mr. Yatim and has no merit. "I believe it to be frivolous and vexatious," he said.

The evidence at the trial is expected to end on Dec. 21, and the jury will hear closing arguments during the week of Jan. 4.

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