James Forcillo: Toronto Cop Found Guilty of Attempted Murder

Written on behalf of Barrison Law
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After 35 hours of deliberation, a jury found Toronto Constable James Forcillo guilty of attempted murder in the shooting death of 18-year-old Sammy Yatim while acquitting him of second-degree murder and manslaughter. This unusual outcome has raised many questions as to how Forcillo could be only guilty of attempted murder when his shots ultimately killed Yatim. In fact, when Forcillo was charged with attempted murder in July, 2014, many legal experts expressed genuine confusion – with one defence lawyer stating he had never seen a person charged with murder and attempted murder at the same time.

Witnesses at the trial gave testimony about Yatim’s appearance and erratic behaviour on July 27, 2013 after he boarded a streetcar on Dundas Street in downtown Toronto. He exposed himself to passengers while wielding a knife. Passengers fled the streetcar and police arrived at the scene moments later. Numerous bystanders caught the event on video in which Forcillo can be seen firing his gun. A second officer then Tasered Yatim. The bystander videos were posted toYouTube, prompting a massive public outcry against the police. Forcillo was ultimately arrested following an SIU investigation.

The jury heard evidence that Forcillo fired nine shots in total at Yatim. The first three shots killed Yatim. By acquitting Forcillo of second-degree murder and manslaughter, the jury found that those first three shots did not constitute a criminal act. The second round of six shots, fired five and a half seconds later, were found by the jury to be neither justifiable nor in self-defence.

Medical evidence presented at trial showed that Yatim was critically injured by the first round of shots and would have died anyway, regardless of whether Forcillo had continued to shoot him. The second round of shots therefore did not kill Yatim, because his wounds were already fatal. Even though Forcillo’s intent may have been murderous for the second round of shots, he was not charged with murder with respect to those shots.

Because jury deliberations cannot be disclosed by law, it is uncertain whether they found that the shots were reasonable and necessary or that Forcillo acted in self-defence. Forcillo argued that his use of lethal force as a police officer was justified because he had reasonable grounds to believe his life and the lives of others were at risk. Many observers, included Forcillo’s defence counsel, have characterized the confusing verdict as a compromise.

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