Unless you have been living under a rock, the media has been covering more and more situations involving death of a civilian by a police officer using a firearm. While the majority of these covered are out of the United States, there is occasionally such an event in another country that makes media headlines. Though it is not as widespread or as widely covered in a country like Canada, “death by cop” as the media often calls it, is something that happens whether you hear about it or not.
In Canada’s case, the death of Sammy Yatim by Toronto Police constable Forcillo has been in headlines since it occurred in 2013. As I am writing this the date is January 25th and the verdict of the trial against Constable Forcillo which started in October has been announced.
The results are as such:
On the charge of Second Degree Murder – Not Guilty
On the Charge of Attempted Murder – Guilty
For a little bit more of a detailed breakdown of the trial and history of the events leading up to the trial see this National Post article:
Before I continue on with this, one of the main reasons the public went into a frenzy over this particular case was because within minutes of the death video footage of the event was made public on Youtube:
Another video is the released footage from the bus can be seen here:
First of all, if you found that disturbing, please take a breath and understand that this is the kind of thing that any and all police officers may have to face at any point, and before you sit and judge, ask yourself what you would have done in his place.
Of course, you most likely easily answered – oh, of course I would not have shot! But despite what many of you think, it is not such an easy decision to make, especially in the moment. Here is a short clip (Yes, I know its fox news but still, it makes the point clear) of an activist who is critical of police actions going through simulated real training:
OK! So let’s go back to the case. The question you have to ask is – how can someone be found guilty of attempted murder when the person in fact died, and then not be found guilty of more severe charges? Here is the first problem in logic with the verdict.
Does this mean I think he should have been charged with the more severe charges? I want to be perfectly clear, that NO, I do not think he should have been charged with any of these charges.
Now before you jump down my throat for saying that, you must understand this DOES NOT mean I think he should go unpunished.
Before I go on with my opinion on the events that occurred I would to establish that unlike most of you reading this, I am far more qualified to asses a use of force situation objectively. Why? Because I served in the IDF for two years, which in itself doesn’t mean anything but most of my active service was in the West Banking doing police work. There were numerous times when I faced potential threat to not only my health and wellbeing, but also to others, and I know exactly how I react in such situations. In addition I have dedicated my life to studying and teaching use of force through Krav Maga and firearms training. In addition, I am also a certified machine gunner and infantry sniper. But I am not here to talk about myself, but I would just like to give you some idea as to why my thoughts have a little more weight than the court of public opinion.
Ok, so let’s break down the event. Here are the facts that matter in my eyes:
- We have a knife wielding individual on a bus that has made threats to the general public
- Before the police arrived, passengers vacated the bus in a panic and Sammy remained on the bus
- Sammy is relatively contained in the bus
- There were multiple officers some, with guns also drawn but then re-holstered and others with guns still drawn
- The first 3 shots from the constable are potentially justifiable
- The next several shots were not really justifiable
- After shots were fired and Sammy went down, not one of the police immediately jumped in to either
- Take the knife away
- Offer immediate first aid until medics could arrive
- The constable has a history of misconduct among other things.
So 1 and two are fairly self-explanatory and I don’t think I need to get into this any further.
Number 3 -The fact that Sammy was in the bus with a knife and no hostages means that he was relatively contained, which should have made it more comfortable for the police to attempt to calm Sammy down. They could have (any or all of them, tried to calm him down with relatively little worry that he would harm others or themselves. This means that putting the fault for not to attempt to calm him down cannot be exclusively put on constable Forciillo because any one of the officers should have done this.
Number 4 – Many of the officers made the assessment that it was necessary to draw their weapons. This means that any one of them knew that they could have potentially needed to use lethal force. Some decided to re-holster because for one individual you really do not need that many guns drawn. In this situation, with Sammy contained, 1 or 2 drawn pistols would have been enough. If you are sitting there saying that they did not need to draw their guns at all then you are mistaken. They were in relatively close proximately and were under 21 feet which means that had they had their guns all holstered Sammy could have easily charged and stabbed any one of the officers before they drew their guns. If you don’t believe me, believe myth busters:
This means drawing their guns at that range was 100% justifiable in any and all circumstances when a knife is present.
Number 5 – The first three shots are justifiable in the moment because Sammy walks into the bus then quickly turns to the door at a faster speed. IN THE MOMENT, not one of you could have determined if he was charging or not. If you assessed he was charging, which officer Forcillio clearly did, then the correct response is to shoot. This is a split second decision and making the wrong one could be fatal to more than just the knife wielder.
Number 6 – Because Sammy was already CLEARLY down the next round of shots is not really justifiable unless he was trying to get up and attack, which he was not. This action is most likely what caused the crown to seek charges in the first place and potentially caused the public to freak out (I say potentially because the public is generally very anti-police in Canada).
Number 7 – After the first 3 shots were fired and Sammy was CLEARLY down officer, Forcillo or any other officer for that matter should have immediately charged in to remove the knife and control Sammy, and then offer medical treatment. While I cannot specifically say why this was not done even though it is what should have been done, it is very likely that this comes down to Canadian police training which is what his defense attorneys are saying is why he took the actions he did. I have talked to many Canadian police officers and it is my opinion that due to their training they are severely lacking in hand to hand combat and arrest training, and as such do in fact rely a little too much on their firearms as a means to deal with a situation. This means that if training is a big factor, which is based on what I know and the lack of reaction from the other officers present that it is potentially the police force and the governments fault for such behavior.
Number 8 – This is a big reason why the constable should be punished. Due to his historic bad performance as well as the poor judgment and potentially negligent action causing death it is clear that no matter what happens he should not be allowed to continue as a law enforcement agent.
So why do I think finding him guilty of attempted murder is wrong you ask? The obvious is the logic of finding someone of attempted murder to someone who died is completely illogical but that’s far too easy an explanation.
In my opinion, charging a law enforcement officer of ANYTHING to do with murder when responding such a call, regardless of good or bad judgment, is wrong and irresponsible. This is essentially saying that anytime an officer uses lethal force against someone with a weapon even if it was a good kill, will potentially result in a murder charge for doing their job.
You may not think this is a big deal, but in a legal system based on common law, which all of Canada except Quebec uses, means that this case sets precedents. This means that any time an officer kills someone in the line of duty the Crown counsel can seek to use this case as a means for various murder charges. This also means that if this charge is to stick, all future judges and Juries may be required to use this case as a general standard for future decisions.
So you are now putting another legal hurdle in the way of officers from doing their job, which is protecting the public form unwanted harm.
This means that instead of simply forcing officers to continue to be judged by the court of public opinion which is based on emotion and BULLSHIT usually, there is now that, plus legal precedents working against them.
Don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely scenarios when an officer should be charged with murder but these should be reserved for very specific unique scenarios that does not involve an officer doing their job.
For example a police officer just off work but is still in uniform with his firearm. Their neighbor whom they do not get along with just let his dog shit on their lawn. THAT’S It, the officer had enough draws is gun and shoots. This would be murder because it has nothing to do with the officer doing his or her job but rather is an emotional outburst resulting in death. Which, by the way, in Canada would be manslaughter.
So how do we solve this problem? Clearly In constable Forcillos case, he should no longer be allowed to continue as a police officer and should in the future not be allowed to do any work in a similar line of work.
I would like to point out that I do not find fault in the jury but rather in the Crown Counsel, the legal system and the government. This is because he clearly should have be punished, but the only option of the three charges they could punish him with was the lesser one. Because if they didn’t find him guilty of something then another bad cop (Which is an extreme minority, despite what you may think or what the media may say) gets to walk free. This would not only make the situation worse but most likely lead to protests and potential riots. As such, I think this verdict is more of a political decision than actual justice.
What should happen is the legal system and government should create a new charge. Let’s just call it for arguments sake extreme negligence and judgment in the line of duty. This new charge, would result in a criminal charge. Would result in a dishonourable discharge. Would result in a ban from any job of similar nature and would result in probation.
Such a charge would:
- Rid the force of any actual bad officers from a legal and moral perspective
- Prevent them from doing any such action again in the future
- Give them a criminal record
- Give them punishment in which the public so often demands.
Such a charge would NOT:
- Set legal precedence potentially further restricting officers from using legal force when required
- Continue to aggravate police public relations
So, Again, Forcillio should NOT be found guilty of anything to do with murder but he SHOULD be punished and SHOULD NOT be allowed to continue as a police officer.
Now with that being said there is clearly a BIG problem with training for the overall police forces in North America, but this is largely political and related to budget concerns. This of course, is an issue for another article but is definitely a problem.
So before you jump on any anti-police bandwagon, please consider the following:
- Legal ramifications of any decision in court under common law
- The fact that you were most likely NOT there in the moment
- The fact that you most likely DO not have any training on the subject matter
- The fact that it wasn’t you in the moment and if you say you know how you would have reacted with no prior comparable experience, then sorry but you are lying to us and to yourself.
Regardless, there definitely needs to be improved relations between the police and the public lest we descend into either an anarchist state or a police state, because if things continue as they are these are, these are two potential devastating outcomes.