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Officer charged with teen's death in T.0.

Shot and killed in empty streetcar

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TORONTO -- A Toronto police officer is facing a rare murder charge in the death of a young man who was shot multiple times while apparently wielding a knife on an empty streetcar.

Const. James Forcillo was charged Monday with second-degree murder in 18-year-old Sammy Yatim's death last month.

The shooting was captured on cellphone and surveillance video on which nine shots can be heard, seconds after shouts for Yatim to drop a knife. The final six shots appear to come after Yatim had already fallen to the floor of the streetcar and he was Tasered.

It's not known how many of the shots hit Yatim, but the special investigations unit has said the young man was shot multiple times.

The videos sparked outrage and prompted hundreds of people to take to the streets in two separate marches to Toronto Police headquarters, demanding justice for Yatim.

His family released a statement Monday saying they are relieved by the charge, but hope the SIU will look into the actions of the supervising officers and other officers who were on scene "for their lack of intervention in this tragedy."

"Over 20 uniformed police officers were present and no one stepped forward to stop the gunshots or offer any mediation," the family wrote.

"Moving forward we expect complete transparency and accountability. We want to work now to ensure that Sammy's blood wasn't wasted and to prevent any other families from enduring such a tragedy."

Yatim's sister took to Twitter to share her reaction to news of the charge.

"The SIU charged the cop with 2nd degree murder!!! Good morning JUSTICE," tweeted Sarah Yatim.

Forcillo has arranged through his lawyer to turn himself in this morning, at which time he will be taken into custody and appear in court, the SIU said in a statement.

"The director of the special investigations unit Ian Scott, has reasonable grounds to believe that a Toronto Police Service officer committed a criminal offence in relation to the shooting death of 18-year-old Sammy Adib Yatim," the SIU said in a release.

Forcillo, who was suspended last month, will be detained following his court appearance today, as is mandated in the Criminal Code, though he could seek bail in Superior Court.

Since the officer has received threats, the SIU would not say where Forcillo will surrender himself. Toronto Police Association president Mike McCormack said he is concerned for Forcillo's safety in and out of custody.

"We're always concerned when one of our officers goes before the courts or gets remanded in custody," McCormack said. "We'll ensure just like anybody else that somebody who's vulnerable is protected... We've had death threats against this officer."

Peter Brauti, the lawyer representing Forcillo, could not immediately be reached for comment. But McCormack spoke to Forcillo and said though he wasn't surprised by the charge, he was disappointed.

"He's obviously upset about the charge, the nature of the charge, concerned about it," McCormack said.

The charge is "very rare," said McCormack, who could only point to one other Toronto officer being charged with second-degree murder in recent memory.

Const. David Cavanagh was originally charged with manslaughter after 26-year-old Eric Osawe was shot as the emergency task force guns and gangs unit searched an apartment in Toronto's west end in 2010. The Osawe family's lawyer has said the man was shot in the back.

The charge was later upgraded to second-degree murder, but at the end of a preliminary inquiry this spring, a judge decided there was insufficient evidence to commit Cavanagh to trial and dismissed the charge.

The Crown has appealed and is asking the judge to reinstate the manslaughter charge.

In addition to the SIU's investigation, Toronto's police chief has said retired justice Dennis O'Connor will lead a separate review of police procedures, use of force and police response to emotionally disturbed people in the wake of Sammy Yatim's death.

André Marin, Ontario's ombudsman, has also launched an investigation, probing what kind of direction the provincial government provides to police for defusing conflict situations.


--The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 20, 2013 A11

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