Crown trying to 'criminalize' cop's judgment, Forcillo's lawyer tells jury
Const. James Forcillo (left) is seen in this court sketch as defence lawyer Peter Brauti addresses the court on Jan. 5, 2016. (John Mantha).
TORONTO -- A Toronto police officer on trial for gunning down a teen on an empty streetcar was following his training and deserves an acquittal, his lawyer argued Tuesday.
Const. James Forcillo's lawyer also accused Crown prosecutors of trying to "criminalize a judgment call" made by a first responder.
Forcillo has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and attempted murder in the shooting of 18-year-old Sammy Yatim, whose death triggered outrage across the city two and a half years ago.
As the trial nears its end, Forcillo's lawyer cautioned the jury that the case needs to be decided not out of sympathy for any party, but on the evidence heard in court.
"Officer James Forcillo is not guilty of murder, attempted murder or any other criminal offence," Peter Brauti said in his closing address. "What the prosecution is really trying to do is criminalize a judgment call."
Crown prosecutors have argued that Forcillo's actions were not necessary or reasonable, but Brauti contends the officer's actions were justified and carried out in self-defence.
"To be clear, no one likes the end result in this case," Brauti said.
"There can be no doubt that while Mr. Yatim may not have been a perfect young man, he is missed by his family. The answer in this case is not to take officer Forcillo away from his family. That is not justice."
The jury has heard that on a night in July 2013, Yatim had taken the drug ecstasy before boarding a streetcar where he pulled out a small knife, sparking a panicked mass exodus after the vehicle came to a stop.
Surveillance videos and audio played in court have shown Forcillo, who at the time had been a cop for 3 1/2 years, arrived on the scene and yelled repeatedly at Yatim to drop the knife.
Yatim refused and hurled expletives at Forcillo and other officers who gathered outside the streetcar, court has heard.
The standoff between Forcillo and Yatim -- which lasted some 50 seconds -- escalated after Yatim took a few steps back from where he had been standing at the top of the vehicle's front steps.
Forcillo warned the teen that if he took another step forward he would be shot. He has testified he believed Yatim was unafraid and ready to "fight till the end."
Forcillo told the court his concerns about an imminent attack appeared founded when he saw the teen jerk his knife towards him before moving forward, towards the spot where he had been standing before.
At that moment, the trial has seen that Forcillo fired three bullets at Yatim, causing the teen to crumple to the floor. After a brief pause, Forcillo fired six more bullets.
In reviewing much of the evidence heard at the trial, Brauti accused Crown prosecutors of trying to "cloud the big picture" by engaging in a frame-by-frame microanalysis of the confrontation, along with suggestions of alternative-use-of-force options the officer could have used.
"What's important to understand is it is Mr. Yatim's outward behaviour that results in him being shot," Brauti said, noting repeatedly that the teen's switchblade was a deadly, prohibited weapon.
"If he obeys any one of the dozen commands given, if he puts down the knife, Mr. Yatim lives to be put on trial for criminal conduct and we would not be here today."
Brauti said Crown theories that Yatim was coming forward to surrender, in the process of putting his knife down, or that Forcillo could have used more polite language, or hurled baseballs, batons or paint cans at the teen instead of shooting him, were all attempts to "distract" the jury.
"Officer Forcillo needs to constantly fall back on what his training is to determine what is reasonable," Brauti said, noting that Forcillo acted in accordance with what he had been taught.
"The Crown wants you to judge officer Forcillo differently, on an after-the-fact standard of perfection."
Forcillo had called for a sergeant with a Taser during his interaction with Yatim, Brauti noted, suggesting that meant he didn't want to use lethal force unless it was necessary.
And while Forcillo had drawn his gun about a dozen times over the course of his time on the force, his encounter with Yatim was the only time he actually fired it, Brauti added.