Const. Forcillo found guilty of attempted murder
Kendra Mangione and Dario Balca, CTVNews.ca
Published Monday, January 25, 2016 12:13PM EST
Last Updated Monday, January 25, 2016 9:54PM EST
Toronto Police Const. James Forcillo has been suspended with pay after being found guilty of attempted murder in the death of a Toronto teen. The jury also found him not guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter.
Forcillo was charged following the death of 18-year-old Sammy Yatim, who died after being shot several times on July 27, 2013.
The officer pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and attempted murder in Yatim's death.
Speaking to reporters outside the courthouse, Forcillo's lawyer said the verdict was "phase one of a long process." Forcillo will be back in court on May 16th.
Defence lawyer Peter Brauti speculated that some jurors may have had difficulty convicting the police officer and “compromised” with the attempted murder verdict.
“We’re a little concerned that it might be a compromised verdict that took place, but we weren’t in the jury room, so it’s not for us to say,” he said. “We have to deal with the verdict now.”
Brauti said the legal team plans to file a constitutional challenge on the five-year minimum sentence Forcillo now faces and a motion to stay the proceedings in March or April on the grounds that the officer was simply following his police training.
Brauti said the defence will also consider an appeal.
"We say that the abuse of process is that Const. Forcillo substantially followed the police training he was given and so if the state gave him that training, they should not be entitled to a conviction in the matter," Brauti said.
"It's early days still for officer Forcillo. He's still got a lot of fight ahead of him."
Brauti called the case a "trial by YouTube," referencing the fact that a cellphone video of the shooting was posted online just minutes after the incident. He said it was probably the first trial he's worked where every potential juror said they knew about the case and had already formed an opinion.
Brauti said Forcillo will not be jailed, but will remain out on bail while other legal avenues are pursued.
Forcillo will be back in court on May 16 for sentencing and arguments.
Yatim’s family reacts to verdict
In a prepared statement, Yatim's mother thanked the jurors, judge, Crown attorneys, Special Investigations Unit and victims support workers.
Sahar Bahadi wrote that the verdict was just the first step, and that she hopes to be part of the discussion to change police training policies, "so this painful incident does not repeat again.
"Nothing in this world will compensate me for the loss of my son nor will anything bring him back to me but I would like, for the sake of this great country, for the police to remain a source of confidence, security and respect for all people."
In a statement, the teen’s father, Bill Yatim, called his son’s actions out of character.
“He tried to borrow a cellphone to call me,” he said. “I often wonder what would have happened if he had been able to reach me and if the police response had been different.”
Following Monday’s verdict, many were left wondering how Forcillo could be convicted of attempted murder, but not second-degree murder, even though Yatim died as a result of the shooting.
Criminal lawyer Ari Goldkind said it all comes down to Forcillo’s job as a police officer.
The attempted murder conviction means the jury believed that Forcillo’s life was in imminent danger when he confronted Yatim, and that the first three shots the officer fire were justified, said Goldkind.
In order to reach the verdict, the jury believed that the second volley of shots, fired about five second later, was not justified because the teen was already down and no longer a threat to responding officers. That means the jury interpreted the last six shots Forcillo fired as an attempt to kill Yatim, according to Goldkind.
Mayor, chief commit to improving policing, mental health services
Forcillo had been working a desk job with Crime Stoppers since the shooting.
Because he was found guilty on Monday, Forcillo will be suspended from the Toronto Police Service but will continue to be paid, Chief Mark Saunders said Monday.
"We have to wait until the whole process is done," Saunders said of the decision.
In the meantime, the force is working to improve how it handles people in crisis.
"Whenever police take a life, tough questions must be asked and answered. There can be no legitimacy without accountability," he said.
In a press conference following the verdict, Toronto Mayor John Tory also expressed his commitment to working with Saunders to achieve their goal of “zero deaths, zero injuries” when it comes to policing.
“Continuous improvement (and) continuous reassessment is something that I think people can feel confident is being done in this city," Tory said.
Tory proposed “modernizing” police practices with more police training in de-escalating situations involving people in crisis and a broader review of how officers interact with the public.
“We are now meaningfully committed, together, all of us, to addressing the issue of how police can better deal with people who are in a crisis of one kind or another,” he said.
But the head of the union representing police officers said the verdict could harm the performance of other officers.
“What kind of message does that send to our front-line officers who are out there every dealing with violence (and) dealing with weapons,” said Mike McCormack, president of the Toronto Police Association. “Clearly, that sends a chilling message to our members.”
Tory said Yatim’s death was a “dark moment for our city” that should result in “meaningful change” in policing.
“There is and can be no satisfaction in any matter that involves the death of one of our citizens,” Tory said. "I hope people will see positive steps arising out of terrible tragedy."
Tory and Saunders also said that more needs to be done to help people suffering from mental illness in order to prevent dangerous situations like the 2013 standoff between officers and Yatim.
"We, along with those who work with the mental health community, have much work to do to provide greater supports, care and facilities for those in crisis so they get the help they need when they need it," Saunders said.
Tory said that, during a meeting with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), he heard “loud and clear” that mental health is not being adequately addressed in the city.
Recap of lengthy trial
Through the months-long trial, jurors have heard that Yatim had taken ecstasy before boarding the streetcar. Once on board, Yatim’s behaviour, which included pulling out a small knife, caused other passengers to panic.
Jurors also heard testimony from a woman who was sitting near Yatim, and the streetcar driver who tried to calm the teen down.
Forcillo told the jury he believed Yatim was going to attack officers who responded to the 911 call. In two separate volleys, Forcillo fired nine bullets at Yatim. Eight struck the teen.
The courtroom was packed with members of the media and friends and family of Yatim and Forcillo as the jury handed down their verdict. Yatim's mother and the president of the Toronto Police Association were also in attendance.
There was also a heavy police presence outside the courthouse.