Toronto Police Const. James Forcillo, the cop who allegedly shot 18-year-old Sammy Yatim nine times, was charged Monday with second-degree murder in Yatim's death. Since the Special Investigations Unit's inception in 1990, Forcillo is the 11th officer in Ontario to be charged with second-degree murder or manslaughter. The unique case is prompting a lot of questions. Here are answers.
1) It is rare that a police officer in the course of his duties is charged with second-degree murder. Is this a case of overcharging by the SIU to appease public opinion?
Public opinion didn't shape the charging decision. There is a viable and credible case to support a charge of second-degree murder against Const. James Forcillo based on the images captured in the YouTube video which disclose the sequence of nine shots being fired at Sammy Yatim in a matter of seconds while he is alone in the confined setting of a streetcar.
He is holding a knife during the sequence. The Crown will be obligated to prove the charge at trial beyond a reasonable doubt and Const. Forcillo is entitled to the presumption of innocence. Manslaughter is an included offence to murder and will be available as an alternate verdict to the jury.
The charge of second-degree murder will require the prosecution to prove an intentional killing of Sammy Yatim. Manslaughter will require proof of an unlawful act by the officer that resulted in the death of the teenager.
2) Const. Forcillo has been vilified on social media and has been portrayed as a murderer before his trial. How can he receive a fair trial?
Social media has its virtues but it can also poison a defendant's right to a fair and impartial trial. Forcillo's lawyer will be permitted to conduct a challenge for cause during jury selection, designed to eliminate any potential jurors who have embedded views of his client's guilt. Clearly this will include anyone who has branded Const. Forcillo as culpable of murdering Sammy Yatim on Facebook, Twitter or any other social media posting prior to trial.
3) Will the officer be granted bail?
Const. Forcillo will apply for bail in Superior Court after his surrender in custody and he will be released on very strict conditions of bail in the next couple of weeks. The judge's decision will be entirely appropriate and not the result of favourable treatment for a police officer. The circumstances of the alleged murder are entirely unique. The officer has been suspended from his duties as a police officer and will pose no danger to public safety while released.
4) Were you surprised that the pending murder charge came less than a month after the fatal shooting of the teenager?
I correctly predicted that a charging decision in the case would be made expeditiously by the SIU. The critical pieces of evidence, the YouTube and security videos, were immediately available for the investigators to review. The witness officers at the scene were co-operative and provided statements at the initial stage of the investigation to the SIU. The investigation of the fatal shooting of a teenager with heightened public interest was given the highest priority by the SIU.
5) Following the Sammy Yatim fatal shooting, the Toronto police chief has appointed a former judge, Dennis O'Connor, to examine the Toronto police force's use of force and response to emotionally disturbed people. Is this a meaningful action or just optics?
Chief Blair challenged the conventional and insular position that only police can properly evaluate changes to police practices and policies. The choice of a judge to scrutinize police conduct and suggest possible reforms is virtually unprecedented and I believe will lead to meaningful reform and will restore public confidence in the police.
The bold appointment of Dennis O'Connor by the Toronto police chief comes at the same time as the mayor of New York publicly chastised a federal judge for her inadequate knowledge of policing after she ruled that a stop and frisk program conducted by the NYPD was discriminatory and resulted in ''indirect racial profiling.''