It was a blockbuster case – one rendered all the more shocking because of the unambiguous video evidence presented at trial.
James Forcillo, a Toronto Police constable shot and killed Sammy Yatim, an emotionally disturbed and intoxicated teenager armed with a knife, on an empty streetcar.
Today – a jury rejected charges of second degree murder and manslaughter, instead convicting him of attempted murder.
Attempting to murder a dead man
But how is that possible?
“I say almost more disappointed, not surprised,” says Ari Goldkind, a Toronto Lawyer. “This is on video – we can watch it, we can listen to it, we can see it.”
In the incident, Forcillo fired nine bullets – an initial burst of three in his confrontation with Yatim, followed by six more once the boy was down.
Goldkind says that’s what the verdict hinges on.
He says the Jury decided that the first three shots – the ones that ended up killing Yatim – were justified in the line of duty.
But they also found there was no justification for firing six more times at him on the ground; that Forcillo must have been trying to kill him then.
But he was already dead.
“A lot of people say how can you attempt to do something that you did a second ago – or that’s impossible to do (because he died from the first three shots.) In short, you can be convicted under our criminal code for attempting to do something that’s impossible, if the thing that’s impossible to do is illegal.”
WATCH: Video footage from the police involved shooting of Sammy Yatim (WARNING – may be disturbing to some viewers)
Goldkind says part of the conviction may hinge on the fact that most people are unwilling to convict an officer of murder.
“Because the uniform just does something to the average juror or average citizen’s mind who are not familiar with the dark side of police.”
And he says the conviction itself may not stand. Forcillo’s defense is looking to have the jury’s verdict tossed out. Barring that, they’re hoping to have his sentence (a five year mandatory minimum, because a firearm was used) declared unconstitutional.
Goldkind says he doesn’t think the outcome will do much in the effort to have police prioritize de-escalation, but that he’s still hopeful.
“Maybe this will make the next police officer rolling up on an emotionally disturbed person think twice.”