TORONTO — The driver of a Toronto streetcar where a teen was gunned down by police said Tuesday that he was frightened in the moments before officers arrived to deal with reports of a young man with a knife.
Chad Seymour was the last person to speak with Sammy Yatim before the 18-year-old died in a confrontation with Const. James Forcillo in July 2013.
Forcillo has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and attempted murder in Yatim's death.
Crown prosecutors have said they plan to prove that Forcillo's actions weren't necessary or reasonable. Forcillo's lawyer has said his client's actions were justified and carried out in self-defence.
Seymour, a key witness, has given the court a detailed recounting of his interaction with Yatim, saying he had a calm conversation with him after the teen pulled out a knife and uttered threats on the streetcar, causing panicked passengers to rush off the vehicle.
But under questioning from Forcillo's lawyer on Tuesday — which largely drew one-word answers — Seymour agreed that he considered the situation on the streetcar unpredictable and dangerous.
"You were obviously concerned about Mr. Yatim's behaviour, because he has a knife out, he's saying things like I'm going to (expletive) kill you,"' Forcillo's lawyer Peter Brauti said to Seymour. "Your state of mind was this is an extremely frightening and dangerous situation."
"Correct," Seymour replied.
Brauti went on to repeatedly question Seymour about his concerns regarding Yatim, giving the court a further glimpse of Forcillo's defence strategy.
The lawyer asked if Seymour had considered whether Yatim was high on drugs and the streetcar driver agreed that Yatim "seemed like he was in a daze." The jury has already heard that Yatim consumed the drug ecstasy before he boarded the streetcar.
"You were concerned he would attack at any minute," Brauti said.
"Yes," Seymour replied.
The court has heard that Seymour asked Yatim what happened and recalled that the teen said he thought people were trying to kill him. Yatim then asked Seymour if he had a phone and said he wanted to call his father
Forcillo's lawyer pointed out, however, that Seymour had a phone in his pocket but pretended to look for one in order to buy himself time before police arrived.
"Telling him you had no phone was a tactic to be safe," Brauti said, drawing an affirmative response from Seymour.
Brauti also suggested Seymour remained on the streetcar talking to Yatim in order to contain the threat the teen posed.
"You did something incredibly brave. You thought, 'I'm not going to get off the streetcar because if I do, he might get off the streetcar and start stabbing people left right and centre,"' Brauti said.
"Correct," Seymour replied.
Court has heard that Yatim sat in the streetcar until the arrival of police prompted him to jump up and swear, at which point Seymour fled the vehicle.
"He was prepared to be compliant with you, it seemed, while you were in the process of trying to get him a phone," Brauti told Seymour. "From the time he sees that police car coming, he is a completely different person...he's completely irate and angry."
Brauti also noted that it took less than two seconds for Seymour to leap off the streetcar and added that Yatim, if he had got off, could have been even quicker.
The jury has seen videos and heard audio that show Forcillo arriving at the scene with another officer and yelling repeatedly at Yatim to "drop the knife," but the teen refuses and calls Forcillo a "pussy."
Brauti pressed Seymour to reveal his thoughts at that time, suggesting Yatim didn't look like he was backing down.
"It's a little bit of disbelief in a sense," said Seymour. "Usually when a cop or a police officer does that sort of thing you'd like to think that people would listen and surrender."
Later Tuesday, a passenger who was closest to Yatim as he walked the length of the streetcar testified that the teen initially ordered people to stay on the vehicle when the commotion began.
"He yelled nobody get off the (expletive) streetcar," said Aaron Li-Hill, who had a bicycle that he placed between himself and Yatim as he backed away.
"I said please just let us go, let us off the streetcar. He didn't respond to this at all. He kept looking straight."
Li-Hill said Yatim kept a steady pace, held his knife in his outstretched right hand and his eyes seemed glazed over. Once at the streetcar steps, Yatim yelled for everyone to get off the vehicle, he said.
"It didn't seem like he was focusing too much on a specific person," he said. "I thought either hardcore drugs or mentally unstable."
Court has heard that after a 50-second confrontation between Yatim and police, Forcillo fired nine bullets, causing the teen to immediately fall to the floor of the streetcar.
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