TORONTO — A Toronto police officer’s fatal shooting of a teen on an empty streetcar two years ago was neither necessary, nor reasonable, a Crown prosecutor told a jury Tuesday as he described the graphic details of Sammy Yatim’s death.
Const. James Forcillo has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and attempted murder in the death of the 18-year-old, an incident that was captured on surveillance and cellphone video and triggered public outrage.
In opening statements to the jury that will decide Forcillo’s fate, Crown prosecutor Milan Rupic laid out a road map of the evidence he intends to present.
One of the fundamental issues for the jury to decide, Rupic said, will be whether it was necessary or reasonable for Forcillo to shoot nine bullets at Yatim while he was inside an empty streetcar surrounded by armed police officers.
“The Crown intends to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the shooting of Sammy Yatim was not necessary and it was not reasonable.”
In a detailed recounting of the incident, Rupic took the jury back to the night of July 27, 2013 when Forcillo and Yatim came face to face.
At the time, Yatim had “moderate to moderately high levels” of the drug ecstasy in his system, according to an autopsy, Rupic said.
Yatim boarded a streetcar around 11:30 p.m., sat at the back of the vehicle and for about 11 minutes didn’t do anything to attract attention until four female passengers sat down near him, Rupic said.
“Yatim began to engage in very strange and disturbing behaviour,” he said.
Yatim unzipped his pants and exposed himself to one of the women, and at the same time took out a small switchblade, Rupic said.
“Yatim swung the knife in front of her but the knife didn’t touch woman,” said Rupic. “The screaming females all got up and rushed to the front of the streetcar.”
The streetcar was stopped and passengers poured out, but Yatim stayed behind, Rupic said.
“None of the passengers were cut or stabbed by Yatim,” he said.
Yatim looked out onto the street, yelled obscenities to the crowd and then turned to the streetcar driver, who was still in his seat and asked if he had a phone, Rupic said.
“The driver said ‘who do you want to call?’ Yatim then replied, ‘dad,”‘ Rupic said, adding that Yatim told the driver “Go, I’m not going to hold you for ransom.”
Forcillo and his partner were the first officers to arrive on scene, responding to 911 calls from several passengers, Rupic said, noting that both officers had been told there had been no injuries.
Forcillo’s partner put her gun away shortly after she arrived, but Forcillo’s weapon remained drawn as he stood near the front doors of the streetcar repeatedly telling Yatim to drop the knife, Rupic said.
Two more officers arrived and Forcillo asked one of them to call for a sergeant with a Taser, he said.
Yatim refused to drop his knife and called the officers a derogatory term in a “mocking” tone but remained on the streetcar and didn’t lunge forward, Rupic said.
The teen then moved a few steps back from where he had been standing and Forcillo told him if he took another step forward he would be shot, Rupic said.
Yatim then took two steps towards the spot he’d been in previously and Forcillo opened fire, court heard.
“Of the five police officers who were in position at the immediate vicinity of the streetcar, the only police officer who fired their handgun was Forcillo,” said Rupic.
Two bullets hit Yatim in the chest — one caused a “catastrophic wound” to his heart which ultimately was responsible for his death, the other severed his spine, paralysing him from the chest down –and the third bullet fractured his right arm, Rupic said.
Yatim fell to the floor but was still moving slightly, and five seconds later Forcillo let off a second volley of shots which hit Yatim in the lower abdomen, penis and groin area, Rupic said.
“Over the course of the two volleys the defendant fired nine shots, eight of those bullets fired hit Sammy Yatim,” Rupic said.
Moments after the second round, a sergeant with a Taser arrived, discharged it and kicked the knife out of Yatim’s hand, Rupic said.
Police then moved in to handcuff Yatim and administer medical attention but the teen died shortly after, court heard.