TORONTO — The wife of a Toronto police officer found guilty of attempted murder in the shooting death of a troubled teen says her husband doesn’t deserve to go to jail because he isn’t a risk to society.
Irina Forcillo has made her plea to Justice Edward Then in a letter submitted as part of Const. James Forcillo’s sentencing hearing, which is to hear lawyers from Crown and defence lawyers on Wednesday.
“I do not see how James can ever be in jail. He is not a danger to the public, I assure you of that!” the mother of two wrote. “In fact, he is the one whose purpose has always been to protect.”
Forcillo has been out on bail ever since being charged in the July 2013 death of 18-year-old Sammy Yatim, who was gunned down while holding a small knife on an empty streetcar.
The incident, which was captured on cellphone video that went viral, triggered public outrage and prompted Toronto’s police chief to launch a review of officers’ use of force and their response to emotionally disturbed people.
In January, after a lengthy trial, a jury acquitted Forcillo of second-degree murder in Yatim’s death, but found the officer guilty of attempted murder for continuing to fire after the dying teen had fallen to the floor.
Forcillo’s lawyers have since filed a constitutional challenge to the mandatory minimum sentence of four or five years the officer faces, asking a court to consider a sentence of house arrest for the man rather than time in prison.
Irina Forcillo, in her letter to the judge who will decide Forcillo’s sentence, explained why she believes her husband should not be sent to prison.
“He is not a criminal. He is a police officer who had an extremely dangerous and tragic encounter.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by Forcillo’s lawyers, who argue that certain sections of the Criminal Code involving the mandatory minimum sentence for attempted murder are unconstitutional and weren’t meant to deal with cases like Forcillo’s.
They argue that Forcillo was duty-bound to protect the public from a knife-wielding Yatim, trained to draw his gun and had been found to be justified in killing Yatim.
Irina Forcillo also emphasized the devastating impact a jail sentence would have on her family.
“If he is to be sent away, I will not be able to go on with my life,” she wrote, noting that she and her two young daughters would lose their home and have to move into her parents’ basement.
“The worst part is how am I going to explain this to my five- and six-year-old girls. What will I tell them? That daddy was trying to protect people but unfortunate events happened and now he has to go to jail. Jail, where drug dealers, rapists and real cold-hearted murderers go.”
Irina Forcillo also acknowledged the “absolutely tragic” nature of the shooting and the pain it caused Yatim’s mother.
“It will never be right as Sammy Yatim is not with us,” she wrote. “It is not justice to break our family apart in return. To scar our children for the rest of their lives and to break a marriage.”