Monday, January 25, 2016

The Police Murder of Sammy Yatim: The Shocking Verdict

It's one of the most bizarre verdicts I've ever seen. A Toronto police officer is found guilty of attempted murder for shooting a troubled teenager on a streetcar.

But not guilty of murder.

Even though he killed him.

A jury has found Toronto police Const. James Forcillo guilty of attempted murder in the 2013 shooting death of Sammy Yatim, but not guilty of second-degree murder.

The jury believed Forcillo was justified in firing the first three shots at Yatim. This is reflected in the not guilty verdict for second-degree murder. The jury found Forcillo was not justified in the second round of shots at Yatim and hence was guilty of attempted murder.

And even though it was murder.

Tasering a person who had just been shot nine times is obscene beyond belief.

And if James Forcillo had taken the time to follow his training, and had tried to de-escalate the situation rather than opening fire about a minute after arriving on the scene, Sammy Yatim would be alive today.

And how do I know this? Because I have seen it with my own eyes.

I was once trapped in a kitchen by a psychotic man with a knife I was trying to help.

I talked myself out of danger, and when the Emergency Task Force arrived, they negotiated with him for hours, before finally tackling him, and nobody was hurt.

Talk is cheap, and I have seen it save lives many times.

And the same thing should have happened on that fatal night in July 2013. Because Sammy hadn't hurt anybody, he posed no threat to the police officers at the scene, and he was clearly suffering from some kind of mental breakdown. 

If he had been able to reach his father on the phone as he tried to do, the tragedy could have been averted.

And if American police can learn from the example of police in Scotland.

American police officers have turned to Scotland for training on how to do their jobs without reaching for a gun.

While the Scottish approach may be foreign to America's top cops, the results are compelling. It has been over two decades since an officer has been killed by a violent suspect, and it is incredibly rare for an officer to kill a suspect.

Where although knife use is a real problem, police have only shot TWO people in the last TEN years.

So can police in this country. 

Because the sad truth is that our police kill far too many mentally ill people.

And that has got to stop. Now.

My only consolation is that James Forcillo will never walk the street as a police officer again, and will never be able to kill another person so casually, and for no good reason.

I hope that more and better training will help save lives.

Even if it comes too late for poor Sammy Yatim, who escaped from the horror of Aleppo, Syria.

Only to be murdered in Canada...

Please click here to recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers.


  1. I saw on the news tonight that efforts are being made on the part of Forcillo's lawyer that the conviction not be registered, Simon. Apparently, until it is, the semi-convict is still suspended with pay.

    1. Yes and their argument is that Forcillo followed the training provided him by the state thus the state has no right to charge him with anything.

    2. hi Lorne...yes Forcillo's lawyer has been acting as irresponsibly as his foul client. But what they don't seem to understand is that the credibility of the entire police force is at stake. And that most Canadians are outraged by what happened. That defence will go nowhere and Forcible will be off to the jail cell where he belongs.

    3. hi Kev... I've heard that argument and it won't stand up in court. Forcillo clearly escalated the situation, and since Yatim was confined and not threatening anyone, and those first on the scene didn't wait for reinforcement or a trained negotiator, those arguments too won't go anywhere...

    4. e.a.f.8:21 PM

      regarding the "foul lawyer". We may not like the defendant, but thank heavens for the lawyer. He is represents the judicial system, If we were to not have lawyers who represented the not so nice part of society, we would no longer have the justice system we do have.

      In B.C. we have had lawyers take on cases they personally weren't happy about, but in this country and our justice system we are lucky to have lawyers who do and do the best they can. As one lawyer once said to me, "you don't have to love them, you just have to represent him".

      We don't really know how the lawyer felts, but he did his job and for that he is to be commended or where would our system be/

  2. If... if Yatim had stepped into the streetcar stairwell, Forcillo might have had a plausible defence. He didn't and, as such, he never presented an immediate threat to Forcillo or all the other cops at both sides of this rogue cop. This was murder written down to a paltry attempt. A dark farce.

    1. hi Mound...yes that's true, although I think Sammy would have had to hit the ground for a proper defence to be made. The other day I saw a video of police in Britain trying to handle a very large man clearly mentally ill who was standing in the street wielding a very large machete. In Canada he would have been killed about a minute after the police arrived. But the British police handled the confrontation brilliantly. They parked their cruisers in the middle of the street so they could use them to shield them while they waited for reinforcements. When the reinforcements arrived they were carrying large riot shields. And when they were ready they rushed the guy and pinned him between all the shields. So what could have been a deadly confrontation ended with nobody being hurt. Our police need to understand that backing up isn't a sign of cowardice, it's a way to show how smart you are...

    2. e.a.f.8:24 PM

      That is the difference between the British attitude and the North American attitude.

      Over the years police have been more and more unwilling to deal with violent people in any manner than shooting. I don't know why. I don't know if its because the officers themselves simply don't know how to handle a fight or they are afraid or this is how they are trained. I expect many are simply not psychologically up for the job.

      The British police have always been better at dealing with this sort of thing, but then the majority of them weren't armed and I think that makes a huge difference for everyone concerned.

  3. Simon, It appears that both judge and jury are culpable in this miscarriage of justice. Forcillo was, as witnessed by all, the primary catalyst that escalated this confrontation to its violent conclusion. (in less than a minute flat)
    What's most disheartening is the way that the Police, from the chief down, have rallied in defense of this officer's actions. Thus making it quite evident that the problem is a well rooted systemic cancer. If I hear the chief correctly....He does not feel that Forcillo did anything wrong. Sadly, it is still quite possible that this menace to society could be back "protecting" Toronto's citizens in the near future.
    The unfortunate truth is that no one is safe on this slippery slope we tread; least of all from police negligence and abuse of power.

    1. hi Blue Grit...As I said in my post, the Sammy Yatim shooting is just another example of police acting in a precipitous manner, without even trying to de-escalate a situation. I saw a CBC documentary recently where some poor man who was obviously psychotic ran out of his house completely naked even though it was a cold winter day. He ran aimlessly up and down the street, and then ran back to his house with a piece of patio furniture in his hand. When the police arrived, they jumped out of their cruiser with guns drawn and in less than twenty seconds fatally shot him in plain view of his family. I will never forget the sight of that poor naked man sitting on the street crying with blood pouring out of him. Police officers who act like that should never be police officers, and those who do should be fired immediately. Hopefully the Yatim case will serve as a lesson, because this situation can't be allowed to continue. And if the new Toronto police chief doesn't get it, he should be fired as well...

  4. Replies
    1. hi Pamela...yes indeed, let's hope that senseless killing was not in vain...

  5. Anonymous8:47 PM

    it is a good thing that the jury was not made up of those 20 terrified passengers who ran off the bus to escape the crazed knife wielder just before the cops arrived

    1. hi anon...just because mentally ill people in a psychotic state can frighten some people, is no reason to kill them. Mental illness can happen to anyone, and police need to understand that those who are having a breakdown are sick not criminals...

  6. Anonymous9:30 PM

    Don't be so sure: the police union holds a lot of sway in Ontario; they helped Kathleen Wynne get re-elected, and I have to imagine, they'll appeal to protect their loose canon.

    That said... WTF!? They're determining guild based on *shot count* now?! Will we limit the number of rounds in police magazines to three!? What a stupid verdict!

    Weapon instructors will tell you that, in a stressful situation, most people who use firearms defensively cannot remember the number of shots they fired. Even trained police officers forced to defend their lives frequently do not recall the number of rounds fired correctly. The notion that three rounds is justified, but six is not, and nine is a crime is stupid. This might be the one and only time I agree with Simon, I think, based on my sorely limited examination of the evidence, and of the cop's character that it was probably murder.

    And if it was murder, and thanks to this stupid verdict, I don't think justice has been served in that regard, but if it was murder then we need to drop this pathological protection of police officers found guilty of misconduct, or in this case, a capital crime. This protection of the police must stop; in fact, when will we learn that those trusted to use the coercive power of government on unarmed, untrained people must be held to an exceptionally high standard, far higher than a "regular" citizen. And when they contravene those standards, the penalty must be severe.

    I've seen some stupid reasons for judgement, and stupid decisions, but this one has got to be one of the worst, if not THE worst.

    1. hi anon... I'm framing this one:

      This might be the one and only time I agree with Simon, I think, based on my sorely limited examination of the evidence, and of the cop's character that it was probably murder.

      But yes, the police union does need to stop defending the indefensible. No decent person could call the killing of Sammy Yatim anything but murder. I believe that street car doors can be locked from the outside. So they should have confined him and waited until a trained negotiator arrived. ETF units are regularly accompanied by negotiators and psychiatrists, and are better equipped to defuse a dangerous situation without resorting to lethal force...

    2. Anonymous6:07 AM

      Well, don't get used to it. :-)

      From what I've heard, Forcillo had a problem having drawn his gun 13 times in three years.

      Use of force in Canada involves something like a 4 page report on the circumstances for each and every single time, including justifications for same. I can't say how I know, but take my word for it; whenever a cop draws their firearm whether to defend their life or otherwise, the paperwork is pretty extensive. And that's in addition to the narrative text, the notes, and everything else that goes into any significant incident.

      For that reason and others, most police officers can go through a whole career and never once have to draw their service weapon. Maybe two, or three times. In 20-25 years.

      Clearly, Forcillo was a loose canon, and either he was out to kill someone, or he was an "accident" waiting to happen. I won't get into "could have, should have" because that's a losing argument for the forces of good, where even approaching the stairwell of the streetcar from the outside is not a reliable thing. And barricading a man armed with a knife, escalating to an armed and barricaded situation is not deescalation, it's escalation.

      But still. Standing outside, surrounded by 6-7 police officers with guns drawn, no real attempt to establish contact other than being ordered to drop the knife, no attempt to deescalate...? We can do better. We need to do better. Maybe, there was a suicide by cop, component, maybe. But that cop in this case, was out to murder somebody, it just happened to be Sammy Yatim. And we the people must stop protecting the wolves-in-sheepdog clothing and insist that such scumbags are held accountable for such staggering abuse of the public trust.

  7. Anonymous11:09 PM

    Hi Simon, The Police here go straight to Lethal Force. You see many takedowns where you can tell the victim is fighting to breath or not have bones broken. They call this resisting arrest and double down on the lethal force. This is how people get killed. I would hesitate to involve the police unless someone's life is really in danger or someone or a dog could end up getting shot. Can you imagine calling them for help for Someone having a mental breakdown and they come and shoot him. How do you live with that. That poor family. RIP Sammy. You deserved better. Happy Burns Day Simon. Pam.

    1. hi Pam...yes, as I was telling some of the other commenters, they are far too quick to rush in with guns blazing. It seems to be some sort of macho belief that if they don't they could undermine the fear people are supposed to feel if they confront the police. But any idiot can do that, it only makes them look like cowards, and police academies need to be far more selective about the kind of people they accept. And you're right, how can people call police to deal with a loved one in trouble when they could be be signing that loved one's death sentence. I don't want to sound like I'm bragging, but with the martial arts skills I possess, I wouldn't have had the slightest hesitation in getting on that streetcar, and trying to talk Sammy into surrendering. But all Forcible dis was stand at the bottom of the stairs and shout obscenities at him. And I believe that the reason he shot Yatim was because he was standing there calling him a "pussy." Which tells me that he should never have been a police officer.
      And thanks Pam, we did have a little celebration to mark Robbie's Day...

  8. There needs to be an upgrade to deal with mental illness on all fronts. Shelter and accommodation, jobs, treatment, educational supports from early development on etc. It is not just at the end where society messes up. We are full of biases when it comes to people who suffer from mental health ailments. I hope the Liberals work to follow up on their election promise of September 30, 2015. See following. I think that Trudeau will make this happen as he has experienced, first hand, what it is like to live with someone who has an untreated mental illness. And even more impressive is that his mother speaks openly about it and how she overcame it and what support she needed to accomplish that feat. And after what he put in his statement, I guarantee that the NDP will make him follow his promise if he delays. SURREY, BC – A Liberal government will modernize health care, and make a real and immediate investment in home care for Canadians, said the Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, Justin Trudeau, today.

    “As Canadians, we believe fundamentally that everyone deserves access to timely, publicly-funded, quality, universal health care – regardless of their background, physical need, where they live, or how much they make. This is about more than just caring for one another. It’s also about making our economy better. The reality is that universal health care is the bedrock of middle class economic security,” said Mr. Trudeau. “If we are to meet the challenges facing our middle class and an aging population – and ensure a sustainable health care system – we need a federal government that will prioritize and invest in home care. Liberals are committed to innovation and partnering with provinces and territories to create a modern, efficient system of universal health care.”

    A Liberal government will re-engage on Canadian health care and negotiate a new Health Accord with provinces and territories, including a new, long-term agreement on funding. This will include:
    •An immediate investment of $3 billion over the next four years to prioritize additional and improved home care services for all Canadians;
    •Improving access and reducing the cost of prescription medications;
    •Pan-Canadian collaboration on health innovation; and
    •Increasing the availability of high-quality mental health services.

    “For ten years, Stephen Harper has failed to engage in the critical conversation we need to have about where our health care system is going, and how we’ll make sure it continues to provide the best possible service to Canadians. Thomas Mulcair will say whatever is politically convenient, and he has already broken his promise on health care,” said Mr. Trudeau. “Liberals have a real plan to make investments now, so that we can ensure the strength and sustainability of our health care system for our kids and our grandkids.”

    1. Anonymous6:04 AM

    2. hi John...I agree with everything you say. There is still a stigma against mental illness and those who suffer from it are treated like second class citizens. A couple of years suffering from a PTSD related breakdown through the entrails of our mental health system, and what I saw both depressed and enraged me. For while there are some great institutions like the CAMH, I vividly remember the situation in one big Toronto hospital, where you walk through a door from the gleaming emergency room, into a psychiatric section that is so rundown and depressing it might as well have been somewhere in the Third World. I wept for my poor friend to see him so humiliated. But I am encouraged that some are trying to change that, I am hopeful that Justin Trudeau can do something to change the situation, and I absolutely love his mother for doing what she can do to shed light on the problem.
      I once thought that Harper might do something to correct the problem, since his family also has a history of mental illness, and one of his grandfathers was afflicted and is believed to have committed suicide. And he did take some steps but they simply weren't enough. Let's hope that we can finally tackle this problem because it shames us all...

    3. hi anon...thanks for the link. We do face a major challenge to improve our health system. But the good news is that I know many good people in the health system who are trying to do just that. And after having a ghastly health minister like Rona Ambrose, we now have a real doctor in that position. And she has many good ideas on how we can make our precious medicare system even better....

  9. Anonymous7:16 AM

    I suggest a new nickname for the t.p.d.---"Murder Incorporated" --- kind of catchy and totally accurate at this point.
    The old u.s. adage about "dial 911 and pray" certainly applies here...pray the cops don't shoot you or your family or dog just because they can when you're the one who called them for help in the first place...Oh yeah: now they want to place bloody bill in charge of pot sales. he'll probably suggest summary executions for people who don't work for the l.c.b.o. mafia that are selling a little bit of weed that he doesn't make a paycheque off of. You can't make this shit up...

    1. hi anon...yes police in Toronto need to do a much better job of dealing with the mentally ill. This is a big city and I believe that about 20 percent of the calls they receive are about mentally ill people. So they have to learn to be more sophisticated, and treating mentally ill people like criminals, and killing them so casually, is an absolute abomination. I know there are some good police officers out there, but definitely not enough of them...

  10. Anonymous10:57 AM

    I can hardly wait until I am charged with speeding, and I successfully win the case that it was simply attempted speeding.

    No doubt this cop will get house arrest for six months with pay. That will teach him to fire off only 3 bullets instead 9 next time.

    1. hi anon...I've been trying to understand why the jury came up with the verdict they did. And I can only conclude that they felt that the choice they were given wasn't adequate. And all I can say is thank goodness they didn't succumb to pressure from the police, and acquit Forcillo like so many other killer cops are acquitted. Police are supposed to serve and protect, killing should be a last resort. And any police officers who don't understand that should either resign or be fired...

  11. Simon I believe in Cops and the thin blue line. It is really all that keeps us safe and its a tricky relationship. If I guy pulls a knife and a cop blows him away, thats justice in my books. Could it have been done better sure. But if I am looking at a guy high as kite on drugs, I want to go home, bam bam. This was a good verdict. That cop should never have been on the line. He had a past history as trigger happy. Still I am going to give cops a lot of doubt.

    1. Unfortunately that is not in the police job description. The police are there to protect life and property and not act like an American police maniac. A police officer with your attitude should be a former police officer as fast as possible.

      I have no problem with appropriate force if needed but the job description of the police does not include, as Simon's namesake said, ""Kill them all, God will know His own".

      Someone threatens and you retaliate with lethal force:
      that's a soldier's job description and solders have strict rules of engagement too. You may have seen the Oka confrontation photo of the soldier and the warrior.

      Use of lethel force is a last resort not the first choice as it seems to be in the USA.

      I wonder it local young police officers are confusing the job with American cop movies?

  12. Simon,
    The verdict was rather surprising but I am not all that disappointed. Given the latitude that many people accord to the police see Steve above for an excellent example, I was rather surprised to see any guilty verdict.

    It may not be what you or I may feel to be adequate but given earlier cases such as the naked man you mention, the verdict is a step in the right direction. A police officer has been held to some level of responsibility for his actions.

    The screaming of the head of the Toronto Police Union is music to my ears. The immunity of the police has taken one small but significant kick in the butt.

    I have seen cases where I have a huge amount of difficulty understanding of the jury reached its conclusions but we were not in the jury room.

    1. hi jrkrideau...yes I think you're right, and I may have been a little harsh on the jury. They did bring down a guilty verdict instead of acquitting that killer cop, as so many other juries have done in other cases. And that does take guts, especially since I'm sure the union had its members in the front row glaring at them all through the trial. It is a blow for justice and hopefully it will serve as a lesson for other officers, and make them less trigger happy.
      Now it's up to the police chief to make sure that the lesson is enforced...