Lawyer for ex-officer convicted in Sammy Yatim’s death delays inquest with ‘suicide by cop’ motion

An attorney for Const. James Forcillo, shown in 2016, argued that text messages and search history of Sammy Yatim’s phone should be included as evidence in the investigation to understand his mental state that led to the deadly confrontation in 2013.Chris Young / The Canadian Press

The lawyer for a former police officer convicted in the shooting that killed Sammy Yatim on a Toronto streetcar nine years ago wants a coroner’s inquest to look into whether the teen’s death amounted to “suicide by a police officer.” ‘ equaled – a last-minute legal maneuver that has derailed the proceedings.

The inquest into the death of Mr Yatim, an 18 year old which was shot multiple times by a Toronto police officer during a mental health crisis in 2013, was scheduled to begin on November 14. On the eve of that start date, the attorney for former Toronto Police Officer James Forcillo – who was convicted of attempted murder – filed a motion demanding that the scope of the investigation be expanded “to clarify the issue.” whether Mr Yatim provoked a deadly police response as a case of ‘suicide by a police officer’”.

Bryan Badali argued that text messages and the search history of Mr Yatim’s phone should be included in the investigation as evidence to understand his mental state that led to the fatal confrontation.

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“Mr. Yatim’s mental state is a key issue in this investigation,” he argued at a hearing on Wednesday.

Mr Badali’s application was vehemently denied by others who took part in the inquiry, including Mr Yatim’s family, the Toronto Police Service, the Toronto Police Department and The Empowerment Council, a mental health advocacy group. The former police officer and his lawyer have been accused of “victim accusation” and several people noted that the materials proposed for inclusion at Mr Forcillo’s trial were rejected because they were speculative.

“Our son and brother are gone forever and should not be brought to justice,” attorney Jonah Waxman said, conveying testimony from Mr. Yatim’s father.

“With this movement, Mr. Forcillo points his finger at Sammy – despite having used the same finger nine times on the trigger of his Glock. The last nine years have been painful and this attempt to shame Sammy’s memory only makes that pain worse.”

Asha James, representing Mr Yatim’s mother, said it was an abuse of procedure to bring the application at the last minute.

Sammy Yatim was shot multiple times by Mr. Forcillo, then a police officer, while the teenager was standing alone on a tram with a small knife on the evening of July 27, 2013.Michelle Siu/The Canadian Press

Mr. Yatim was shot several times as a teenager by Mr. Forcillo, then a police officer stood alone on a tram on the evening of July 27, 2013, holding a small knife. The case sparked public outrage after video footage of the shooting circulated on social media, showing the officer continued to shoot at Mr Yatim even as he lay dying on the floor of the tram.

The police were called after Mr Yatim pulled out the knife on the tram and exposed himself during a mental crisis. When Mr. Forcillo arrived, Mr. Yatim was alone on the tram. Mr Forcillo fired several times causing Mr Yatim to fall to the ground. Mr Forcillo continued to fire and another officer used a taser.

It was that second volley of gunfire – with the teenager already on the ground and dying – that prompted the jury to convict Mr Forcillo of attempted murder. He was acquitted of second degree murder in Mr Yatim’s death.

The officer who tasered Mr Yatim initially faced an internal disciplinary case, which was withdrawn after mediation with the family of the killed teenager.

Mr Forcillo was later convicted of perjury for claiming to be living with his ex-wife while awaiting his appeal on bail, when in fact he had moved in with his new fiancée.

He was sentenced to a total of 6½ years for both offenses and is now on probation.

In Ontario, an inquest is mandatory whenever someone dies in police custody. In addition to making recommendations to prevent similar deaths in the future, the investigative courts also have the task of determining the manner of death. In his filing, Mr. Badali writes that the chief medical examiner’s own guidelines “recognize that situations such as those involving Mr. Forcillo and Mr. Yatim may contain elements of both homicide and suicide.”

“There is clear evidence that Mr Yatim taunted Mr Forcillo and other officers and repeatedly and knowingly disobeyed clear orders, even in the face of a warning that he would be shot if he disobeyed,” Mr Badali’s motion reads. “In this context, excluding evidence of Mr Yatim’s mental state that led to this confrontation would artificially tip the balance in favor of a homicide finding. But that is the decision of the jury.”

David Cameron, chief medical examiner, expressed his disappointment that the inquest – which was supposed to last 10 days and hear 11 witnesses – was derailed before it could even begin. He said he expects to make a decision on the application by the end of 2022.