Forcillo testifies at coroner’s inquest into Sammy Yatim’s death
James Forcillo, the former Toronto police officer who shot and killed 18-year-old Sammy Yatim on an empty streetcar in 2013, told a coroner’s inquest on Tuesday that he did not receive any feedback from his superiors on his use of force before the fatal incident. Forcillo said he filled out forms whenever he drew his firearm, but never heard back from anyone. He said it would have been helpful to have some guidance on what he did well and what he could improve on.
Forcillo, who was a constable at the time, also said he did not get any support for his mental health after any of the incidents where he used force. He said it was “not the culture” to talk about mental health issues, and he feared he would be taken off the road if he expressed any concerns. He said he bottled up his emotions and worked as much as he could.
The inquest, which began on Monday, is examining the circumstances surrounding Yatim’s death and the police decision-making and best practices in dealing with people in crisis. Forcillo is the first witness to testify.
Yatim was holding a knife when Forcillo shot him
Yatim was alone on a streetcar and holding a small knife when he was shot by Forcillo shortly after midnight on July 27, 2013. The incident was captured on video and sparked public outrage and protests.
Forcillo fired two volleys of shots at Yatim, who was standing near the front of the streetcar. The first volley consisted of three shots, which the jury at Forcillo’s criminal trial found were justified. The second volley consisted of six shots, which the jury found were not justified, as Yatim was already on the ground and dying.
Forcillo was acquitted of second-degree murder, but convicted of attempted murder for the second volley. He was sentenced to six years in prison, but was granted day parole in January 2020 after serving less than two years behind bars.
Forcillo says he wished he had a stun gun
On Monday, Forcillo told the inquest that he wished he had a stun gun on the night he shot Yatim. He said he did not have one because they were not widely available to frontline officers at the time. He said having a stun gun would have “changed everything” and given him another option to deal with Yatim.
He also said he did not have any training on how to deal with people in crisis or mental health issues. He said he relied on his instincts and his experience as a police officer.
He said he felt threatened by Yatim, who was acting erratically and refused to drop the knife. He said he believed Yatim was going to attack him or the other officers who arrived at the scene.
He said he regretted shooting Yatim, but he did not think he had any other choice at the time.
Inquest expected to last two weeks
The inquest, which is presided over by Dr. John Carlisle, is expected to last two weeks and hear from about 15 witnesses, including other police officers, paramedics, and experts on use of force and mental health.
The jury will not assign any blame, but will make recommendations to prevent similar deaths in the future.
The inquest is being held at the Forensic Services and Coroner’s Complex in Toronto. It is being livestreamed on YouTube due to COVID-19 restrictions.