TORONTO - A Toronto police officer facing a rare murder charge in the shooting death of a young man on a streetcar is free on $510,000 bail after spending just hours in custody.
Const. James Forcillo, 30, surrendered himself to authorities Tuesday morning on an arrest warrant that was issued the day before in the death of 18-year-old Sammy Yatim.
Yatim was shot multiple times and Tasered on an empty streetcar last month. It was captured on surveillance and cellphone video on which nine shots can be heard following shouts for him to drop a knife.
Forcillo showed no discernable reaction when he appeared in court in the morning on a procedural first appearance and in the afternoon when he and his lawyers attended the bail hearing. He was brought to the courthouse around 8:30 a.m. and walked free about seven hours later.
Superior Court Justice Gary Trotter's reasons for setting Forcillo free on bail are under a publication ban.
But his lawyer Peter Brauti said outside court that Forcillo, who has an "excellent" policing background, is someone who should be released. The speed with which he got out is unusual, Brauti acknowledged.
"It's rare, if you want to talk about murder cases in general, but when you look at the circumstances of this case, this is a case where Mr. Forcillo didn't ask to be at the foot of that streetcar," Brauti said.
"He was on duty and he had a legal obligation to be there. We'll have a trial about whether the decisions were right or wrong."
Several fellow defence lawyers took to social media to express surprise about how quickly Forcillo was released.
Toronto lawyer Andreas Papadopoulos said in an interview that bail should be granted except in the rarest of circumstances, but usually in the time it took from Forcillo's arrest to his release on bail, many second-degree murder suspects would still be under police interrogation.
"It is not common that people are just released on consent by the Crown on a second-degree murder charge involving a weapon on the same day they were arrested," he said.
"We all wish that the system worked for our own clients the way it did for him."
Brauti, who often represented police officers, said he and Crown Attorney John Patton spent a nearly sleepless 24 hours hammering out an agreement.
Forcillo's four sureties include his wife and her family and he must report to the Special Investigations Unit once a week. He must surrender his passport and any weapons, obey a curfew and get written permission from the Crown to leave Ontario, though he can't leave Canada.
"The conditions are stringent to show the public that this is a serious case and everybody's treating it seriously," Brauti said.
Forcillo was also ordered not to communicate with the witnesses in his case and Yatim's mother, father and sister.
Yatim's family was scheduled to hold a news conference on Wednesday afternoon to discuss the events surrounding the young man's death.
But in a statement to the media late Tuesday, the family said they "do not have the energy right now to comment."`
“We know you wanted to speak to our family and we appreciate your patience," the statement said.
"Please understand that this has struck our family to the core. While we understand your interest and concern for us, we are trying to heal and regain some sense of normalcy in our lives."
In an earlier statement, the family said they are relieved by the charge, but hope the SIU will look into the actions of the supervising officers and other officers who were on scene "for their lack of intervention in this tragedy."
Toronto Police Association President Mike McCormack— who attended Forcillo's court appearance — said this has been a stressful time for the officer, who has received death threats.
"He's very upset and in shock, quite honestly," McCormack said. "As I said, it's been very trying on him and his family."
Forcillo's lawyer urged the public not to rush to judgment over the videos of Yatim's shooting.
"As everyone knows when you look at something from one perspective you can look at it from a completely different perspective and it shows something completely different," Brauti said.
"The defence knows some of the information now and it's much different than what's being reported."
Since the SIU's inception in 1990, 10 other police officers have been charged with second-degree murder or manslaughter in Ontario, but only one was convicted, and that was overturned on appeal.
In addition to the SIU's investigation, Toronto's police chief has said retired justice Dennis O'Connor will lead a separate review of police procedures, use of force and police response to emotionally disturbed people in the wake of Yatim's death.
Ontario's ombudsman has also launched an investigation, probing what kind of direction the provincial government provides to police for defusing conflict situations.
Andre Marin has said Yatim's shooting raises the question of whether it's time for Ontario to have consistent and uniform guidelines on how police should de-escalate situations before they lead to the use of force.
Forcillo's next court appearance is Sept. 30, when he will return to provincial court for a judicial pre-trial, which is a case conference with a judge and the lawyers.