TORONTO — A Toronto officer who fired nine bullets at a teen on an empty streetcar had multiple alternatives to lethal force but didn't use them, his trial heard Wednesday.
Robert Warshaw - an expert on police use-of-force tactics - offered an analysis of the 2013 confrontation which triggered outrage across the city, saying the 50 second standoff between Const. James Forcillo and 18-year-old Sammy Yatim "went from A to Z rather quickly."
"There were, in my view, alternatives at the time to the use of deadly force," he said, noting that Forcillo's options would only have increased as more time went by.
"There was no single asset to officer Forcillo that was more valuable than time."
Forcillo has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and attempted murder in Yatim's death.
The jury has heard that Yatim had taken the drug ecstasy at some point before boarding a streetcar on which he eventually pulled out a small knife, causing panicked passengers to rush off the vehicle as it came to an abrupt stop.
"All of those opportunities to de-escalate the situation just never materialized, there was no effort."
Surveillance videos played in court have shown Forcillo arriving at the scene, yelling at Yatim to "drop the knife" and, after a confrontation that lasted less than a minute, firing nine bullets in two volleys.
Crown prosecutors have said they plan to prove that Forcillo's actions during the incident weren't necessary or reasonable. Forcillo's lawyer has said his client's actions were justified and carried out in self-defence.
Under questioning from a Crown prosecutor, Warshaw - a former American police officer who has helped several forces reform their operations - offered his views specifically on the "reasonable or viable alternatives'' available to Forcillo around the time he fired the first volley.
"What level of risk did Yatim pose to officers on the street?'' asked Crown lawyer Milan Rupic.
"At that point in time, in my judgement, none,'' Warshaw answered. "I did not see or hear anything that indicated that there was an imminence to any sort of attack being perpetrated by Mr. Yatim."
Warshaw said Forcillo "made no effort to have any interaction'' with Yatim to determine whether there was anything on the young man's mind that could be mediated at the scene.
Forcillo could have asked Yatim for his name, asked him what the problem was, and whether anyone could be called for him in an attempt to connect with the teen, Warshaw said.
Police officers at the scene could also have used pepper spray to distract Yatim, used an expandable baton, used a switch on the outside of the streetcar to close the vehicle's doors or even simply waited for a superior to arrive on scene with a Taser, Warshaw said, but the situation appeared to show "no action plan'' and "no tactical thinking."
"All of those opportunities to de-escalate the situation just never materialized, there was no effort," he said.
Warshaw noted that Yatim remained on the streetcar, near the front doors of the vehicle, when police arrived on scene, and was "essentially already contained."
The jury has heard both Forcillo and Yatim using profane language during the incident, but Warshaw said an officer's use of profanity likely doesn't help in such situations.
"A police officer who uses profanity as a means to underscore his authority is essentially bringing himself down to the level of the person he's attempting to bring under control,'' he said. "It's somewhat difficult to migrate from that kind of language to de-escalating language where you're trying to be calming, and reassuring."
Police could have taken longer to deal with Yatim, even if it meant negotiating for hours, Warshaw said.
"As more time lapsed, more police officers arrived at the scene. The omnipresence of police officers have a deterrent impact," he said. "The options available to Mr. Yatim would have diminished, that's assuming he had something sinister in his mind, and officer's Forcillo's options would have increased."
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