TORONTO— The lawyer for a Toronto police officer on trial for killing a teen on an empty streetcar asked a jury to acquit the man, saying Tuesday that the prosecution in the case was trying to "criminalize a judgment call'' made by a first responder.
Const. James Forcillo has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and attempted murder in the shooting of 18-year-old Sammy Yatim, whose death triggered outrage across the city 2 1/2 years ago.
As the trial nears its end, Forcillo's lawyer cautioned the jury that the case needs to be decided not out of sympathy for any party, but on the evidence heard at trial.
"Officer James Forcillo is not guilty of murder, attempted murder or any other criminal offence," Peter Brauti said in his closing address. "What the prosecution is really trying to do is criminalize a judgment call."
Sammy Yatim was shot on a TTC streetcar in Toronto, Ont. (Photo: YouTube)
Crown prosecutors argue Forcillo's actions were not necessary or reasonable. Brauti contends the officer's actions were justified and carried out in self-defence.
"To be clear, no one likes the end result in this case," Brauti said.
"There can be no doubt that while Mr. Yatim may not have been a perfect young man, he is missed by his family. The answer in this case is not to take officer Forcillo away from his family. That is not justice."
The jury has heard that on a night in July 2013, Yatim had taken the drug ecstasy before boarding a streetcar where he pulled out a small knife, sparking a panicked mass exodus after the vehicle came to a stop.
Surveillance videos and audio played at the trial have shown that Forcillo, who at the time had been a cop for 3 1/2 years, arrived on the scene and yelled repeatedly at Yatim to drop the knife.
"This case is about second guessing where an officer is allowed to draw his or her line in the sand."
Yatim refused and hurled expletives at Forcillo and other officers who gathered at the scene, court has heard.
The standoff between Forcillo and Yatim— which lasted some 50 seconds— escalated after Yatim took a few steps back from where he had been standing at the top of the vehicle's front steps.
Forcillo warned the teen that if he took another step forward he would be shot. He has testified he believed Yatim was ready to "fight till the end" when confronted.
Forcillo said his concerns about an imminent attack appeared founded when he saw the teen jerk his knife towards him before moving forward, towards the spot where he had been standing before.
At that moment, the trial has seen that Forcillo fired three bullets at Yatim, causing the teen to crumple to the floor. After a brief pause, Forcillo fired six more bullets.
"What's important to understand is it is Mr. Yatim's outward behaviour that results in him being shot."
Brauti accused Crown prosecutors of trying to "cloud the big picture" in the case by engaging in a frame-by-frame microanalysis of the confrontation, along with suggestions of alternative-use-of-force options the officer could have used.
"What's important to understand is it is Mr. Yatim's outward behaviour that results in him being shot," Brauti said.
"If he obeys any one of the dozen commands given, if he puts down the knife, Mr. Yatim lives to be put on trial for criminal conduct and we would not be here today."
Brauti said Crown theories that Yatim was coming forward to surrender, in the process of putting his knife down, or that Forcillo could have used more polite language, or hurled baseballs or paintcans at the teen instead of shooting him, were all attempts to "distract'' the jury.
"This case is about second guessing where an officer is allowed to draw his or her line in the sand," he said.
Brauti also noted that Forcillo had called for a sergeant with a Taser during his interaction with Yatim, and suggested that meant he didn't want to use lethal force unless it was necessary.
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