Watch: James Forcillo leaves Toronto courthouse after being granted bail
TORONTO – Toronto police Const. James Forcillo has been formally charged with second-degree murder by Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) in the shooting death of 18-year-old Sammy Yatim less than four weeks ago.
After the charge was announced Monday, Forcillo surrendered himself to the SIU Tuesday where he was taken to Old City Hall for his first court appearance.
The SIU – which investigates when police officers are involved in incidents when someone has been injured or dies – laid the rare charge of second-degree murder for only the third time since the Ontario police watchdog was created in 1990.
The most recent incident of a second-degree murder charge was in 2012 when Toronto Const. David Cavanagh was charged in connection with the shooting of Eric Osawe who died during a police raid in 2012.
Cavanagh was originally charged with manslaughter, which was later upgraded to second-degree murder. In March 2013, the murder charge was thrown out by a judge during a preliminary hearing and the lesser charge of manslaughter was also dismissed.
The case is currently before the court as the Crown has appealed the judge’s decision and asked for the manslaughter charge to be reinstated.
Legal analyst Lorne Honickman said the difference between a second-degree murder charge and manslaughter comes down to intent.
“Second-degree means that the Crown is going to have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the officer meant to kill Sammy Yatim or meant to cause him such grievous bodily harm that he knew would likely end up in his death,” Honickman told Global News.
Charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter against Ontario police officers are rare.
Focillo has become just the 11th officer to be charged with second-degree murder or manslaughter since the SIU was created in 1990.
Toronto criminal lawyer Gregory Leslie said prosecuting police officers can be difficult for the Crown because the issue of intent is difficult to prove.
“It comes down to what is going in the mind of the officer. Because they have to deal with potentially dangerous people, they are treated differently than an average person,” said Leslie.
Leslie said that part of the defence will focus on testimony from the officer charged.
“If the officer saw the deceased person make any motion like towards his pocket he could think he was going for another weapon. The officer’s state of mind is a hurdle the Crown will have to overcome,” said Leslie.
YouTube video of the incident, which shows police firing nine shots at the Toronto teenager, has led to protests and public outrage.
Security Analyst Ross McLean, told The Morning Show , that the video is a central part of the SIU’s investigation.
“I think this video is the driving force behind what took place here because the public has seen it,” McLean said. “Normally all the public gets from an investigation to a police shooting or serious injury is an SIU summary of the incident, it’s not very fulsome as this video is of telling it.”
Forcillo was granted bail on Tuesday afternoon.