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Updated: Tue, 20 Aug 2013 12:10:12 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

Sammy Yatim streetcar shooting officer appears in court



Sammy Yatim streetcar shooting officer appears in court

The Toronto police officer charged with second-degree murder in the shooting of Sammy Yatim aboard a streetcar last month made a brief appearance at a downtown courthouse this morning.

Const. James Forcillo appeared at Old City Hall ahead of a bail hearing expected to happen in a different courtroom Tuesday afternoon. Forcillo did not speak during his morning court appearance. He was ordered to be held pending the bail hearing.

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Forcillo arrived at Old City Hall court shortly after 8:30 a.m. ET. The van carrying the officer drove past throngs of reporters and photographers as it turned into the courthouse.

Speaking outside the courthouse after the police officer's morning court appearance, Forcillo's lawyer Peter Brauti told CBC News that his client is upset, describing the charge as "a life-changing incident" for Forcillo.

Forcillo, 30, entered custody earlier in the day at an undisclosed location in an arrangement made with his lawyer and the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), Ontario's police watchdog. In a Twitter message issued Monday, the SIU said it opted for the secret surrender because death threats have been made against Forcillo on social media.

On Monday, the SIU announced it would recommend a second-degree murder charge against Forcillo for his role in the July 27 shooting that killed Yatim, 18, an incident captured on videos that have been viewed more than a million times online.

On videos of the shooting, 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 is then stunned with a Taser.

It's not known how many of the shots hit Yatim, but the SIU has said he was shot multiple times.

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

Yatim's family released a statement Monday expressing relief that the officer was charged, but hoped the SIU would look into the actions of the supervising officers and other officers who were at 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."

The family plans to speak about the charges at a news conference scheduled for 3 p.m. Wednesday.

'No winners in this,' says police union president

Toronto police union president Mike McCormack said Monday that Forcillo is upset about the charge, but neither he nor Forcillo was surprised. Forcillo was suspended with pay following the shooting.

“There’s no winners in this,” McCormack told CBC News. “It’s a lose-lose situation for the family and our officer. Our officer is definitely a casualty of this incident."

This is only the second time a Toronto police shooting has led to a second-degree murder charge. The first was in 2012 in connection with the death of Eric Osawe during a raid at an apartment in 2010, and also followed an SIU investigation.

However, the judge at Const. David Cavanagh's preliminary hearing threw out the murder charge and also discharged the lesser charge of manslaughter.

Second-degree murder implies intent to kill the victim. The Crown brings a manslaughter charge when it does not believe the killing was intentional.

Video evidence is key

While convictions are rare in cases of police shootings, lawyer Peter Rosenthal, who has represented families killed by police, said the existence of video evidence sets the Yatim case apart from others.

“In most of these cases, the only witnesses are police officers and there isn’t any video that determines what happened,” said Rosenthal in an interview on CBC News Network. "And the witnesses don’t necessarily expose their colleagues, who are the shooters."

Rosenthal said the video evidence compelled the SIU to file charges.

“Here we have a video that tells so much of the story that it’s hard to imagine appropriate defences, but in any event there’s definitely a clear charge that had to be laid.”

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