A demonstrator at the justice for Sammy Yatim protests in downtown Toronto, August 2013. Photo via Michael Toledano.
James Forcillo, the police officer who has been accused of pulling his trigger nine times on 18-year-old Sammy Yatim last July, is back at work for the Toronto Police Service.
In August, Forcillo was charged with second-degree murder for killing Sammy. In February, his suspension, which was required by Ontario law to be paid, was lifted and he returned to College St. police headquarters in a full-time administrative role, on the same salary as the one he had before the killing.
And on Thursday, the third day of a preliminary hearing, set to determine whether there is adequate evidence to proceed with a trial for Forcillo, wrapped up.
If there are people who don’t agree with Forcillo’s return to work, Peter Brauti is not one of them. And no one would expect him to be, as Forcillo’s lawyer, and the best in the biz for preventing cops from getting busted. When it comes to Ontario officers who’ve been charged with second degree murder or manslaughter, Brauti has a perfect record of keeping cops out of jail and he’s counting on that record to remain intact, even with video evidence of Sammy’s violent death. Yesterday Brauti told the Toronto Sun that Forcillo should be getting up every day and going to work as a police officer, because he feels that Forcillo’s actions “ultimately will be justified.”
Brauti and president of the Toronto Police Association Mike McCormack are insisting there is more to the story than what appears in aforementioned cell phone video Trinity Bellwoods neighborhood resident Martin Baron took of the scene, and surveillance video that shows the shooting. A publication ban is preventing media from reporting evidence that has and will be presented at Forcillo’s preliminary hearing, and possible trial.
So, I called up McCormack to see what he could tell me about what he is calling the larger story, and Forcillo’s return to work.
VICE: The Canadian Press quoted you as saying: "Our officer should be judged in this incident based on what the facts and the evidence are, not just a video or not just what somebody saw on YouTube, but looking at the larger, bigger picture.” Explain what you mean when you say the larger, bigger picture.
Mike McCormack: A video is only one piece of a larger story. If we were just to judge on the video we wouldn’t see courts or evidence or anything else. The video just presents one viewpoint to speak to what people were feeling, what was happening, what happened before the video, what the officer’s perceptions were.
What is the larger story?
It’s all part of the publication ban, so I can’t get into evidence of what’s to be presented at the preliminary hearing.
What would you say to people who think the video shows Const. James Forcillo fatally shooting Sammy Yatim, who, standing with a small knife before 23 police officers, did not appear to be a threat, and that is evidence enough to convict Forcillo?
What you’re speaking to is exactly the problem here. The public is seeing the video and [the video] has entrenched the public’s perception or feelings. They [the public] have already judged and convicted Const. James Forcillo, for the most part, and that’s a pretty troubling scenario to me.
What troubles you most about the reaction the public expressed through protesting James Forcillo’s killing of Sammy Yatim last July and again in August?
The public’s already seen the video and they’ve already made their judgment. That creates a problem: The public is jumping to conclusions, making assumptions about this officer and the way the officer behaved and what happened that night. [Those assumptions] are based on an incomplete picture. I shouldn’t be the only one that’s troubled by that. Everyone should be troubled by that.
The video doesn’t paint an honest and forthright or full picture of what happened and it [the case] should be transparent and people should have the evidence and should hear the facts. But then [the public] ‘make an opinion,’ because everybody’s got an opinion. They could make their judgment based on facts—the total facts around an issue, not just [facts that are] one-sided. I don’t think anybody can say it’s a good idea to do that.
Will the publication ban be lifted after the preliminary hearing and, if there is enough evidence to proceed, the trial?
If he gets committed to trial, at the completion of the trial if the publication ban is lifted then it will all become public information. We’ll see how the appropriate forum to assess the evidence, which, right now, is the courts, we’ll see what they come back with.
Toronto police chief Bill Blair made the decision to lift Const. James Forcillo’s paid suspension, and Forcillo returned to work in February. Currently, he is working in a full-time position with the same salary he had before he shot and killed Sammy Yatim. What is he doing at work?
He’s not doing any police duties whatsoever. He’s on what I will call a super restricted duty, an administrative duty with no use of force options, and what I mean by that is no gun, no handcuffs. He doesn’t do any policing. He’s not involved with the public. He’s involved with doing tasks that are administrative in nature, that don’t jeopardize investigations, that don’t put the corporation at risk, that don’t put the public at risk. [His position] allows him to go into work, it allows taxpayers to continue paying him until the courts judge him for his actions.
Setting his particular role aside, how should Sammy’s parents interpret that the officer who is charged with the murder of their son is back at work for the Toronto Police Service?
It’s not up to me to tell them how to interpret the return to work. All I can say is that I totally understand the way they feel. I empathize with that, and that’s an emotional feeling based on what has happened. [They way they feel] is a subjective thing without having all the facts surrounding that fateful evening, so I’m not going to try to take away from it.
I have to work on facts and evidence. Const. James Forcillo is facing an allegation that’s before the courts right now. He hasn’t been convicted of anything. He’s being judged and people are saying, “Oh my god, how can this guy come back to work?” Well, he hasn’t been found guilty of anything.
On the Toronto Police Association’s website, it says its fundamental purpose is to protect those who protect others. Who was Const. James Forcillo protecting when he shot Sammy Yatim?
This guy is a police officer who is out there responding to a call for service. He was responding to a call where it was a very high priority call with a weapon involved. He was protecting the public. Whether he made the right or wrong decision in how he did that, that’s up to the courts to decide. So don’t diminish what he did as a police officer, or his role as a police officer.
Unfortunately, it’s a reality of policing. We’re forced to make decisions and forced into situations because we are out there working for the public, and then we’re going to be judged on those decisions.