Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Yatim’s ‘state of mind’ and what the Forcillo jury didn’t hear

A sobering truth about any murder trial is that one of the most important people in the case isn’t there — the victim.

In the now-concluding trial of Toronto Police Constable James Forcillo — after receiving instructions from Ontario Superior Court Judge Ed Then, the jurors retired Wednesday to begin deliberations — Sammy Yatim’s absence was even more keenly felt.

What was in the slender 18-year-old’s mind the night he was shot and killed by Forcillo on a downtown streetcar? What could he have been thinking? Why did he go from sitting quietly at the rear to suddenly exposing himself and swinging a switchblade at a young female passenger?

Others on the night of July 26-27, 2013 made their tentative inquiries — the poised streetcar driver Chad Seymour, who chatted with Yatim despite the blade in his hand, and TTC janitor Anthony Sampogna, who had encountered the shaking, restless teenager less than an hour earlier at the Eaton Centre subway station when he repeatedly asked the janitor to call police before abruptly disappearing — but the 32-year-old Forcillo never did.

In his less-than-a-minute-long encounter with Yatim, who was standing at the open front doors of the streetcar brandishing the knife and calling the officers “pussies,” Forcillo didn’t ask Yatim a thing.

He drew his Glock handgun at the very sight of the teen and his knife. He immediately began yelling standard police commands to “Drop the knife!” (and un-standard ones such as “Drop the f—ing knife!”) as he approached the streetcar and after he took up his position outside the doors.

Within about 50 seconds, it was all over, including the shooting — two volleys, one of three shots and one of six, about five seconds apart.

Was it, as senior prosecutor Milan Rupic and his expert witness Robert Warshaw both said, a critical and revealing failure on Forcillo’s part that showed his disdain for the “soft” technique of “verbal de-escalation”? (This is what talking ordinarily to people in crisis is now called.)

Or was it, as defence lawyers for Forcillo wanted to argue through another expert, that Yatim was despondent and trying to commit “suicide by cop,” or SBC, a colloquial name for one kind of “victim-precipitated homicide” in which the dead person is deemed a cause of his own demise?  (more...)

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