Saturday, August 3, 2013

Sammy Yatim: When is a Cop Justified in Using Fatal Force?

There's a "justification" piece in the National Post on behalf of the cop who shot Sammy Yatim.  It doesn't offer much to go on beyond that we shouldn't trust a brief video to tell the whole story.  But I asked a cop what he thought of the situation, and he gave me some astute points for consideration (liberally paraphrased from memory):

But it was just a little knife!

Stabbings kill far more than shootings.  One good jab with a 3" blade can do fatal damage.  Using pepper spray or a taser isn't going to cut it if someone's coming at you with a knife.  You have to stop them for sure.  Immediately.

Why 9 shots?

During training, when a cop shoots at a perp, they unload their guns.  They always unload their guns.  Maybe they should be trained differently so they don't automatically keep shooting until they're out.  

Why didn't the cop work out a plan with the other cops milling about?

You have to understand what's happening to someone in that situation when you're in a small space face to face with a possibly dangerous perpetrator.  When someone's threatening your life, and won't stop when warned, then you get a tunnel vision.  You're unaware of anything in the room except for you and the guy who has potential to fatally stab you.  You forget that you've got back up.  It's just you and him there in a life and death struggle.  You don't want to hurt him, but you don't want to die either.  

What's with that other cop tasering the dead body?

This might not be a problem in this specific case, but in the summertime, a lot of the senior guys take vacations.  So you're left with a police force made up of the newest cops, and sometimes the commanding officer is just an acting supervisor with little to no experience running the show.

So my question for the thousands signing petitions to charge Constable James Forcillo is:  Should one cop be destroyed for the systemic problems of the police force?  He shot a man holding a knife and refusing to drop it.  Yatim wasn't a danger to any bystanders, but he might have been a danger to the cops involved.  Forcillo couldn't talk him down, but could he have just backed off and closed the door?  And if I were in that situation, with the training provided that had me unload my weapon, and possibly a force with few senior officers to advise me, would I do anything differently as a knife-welding man came towards me?

It's hard to tell.

And I'm not really sure where I sit on it all.  I just hate when mobs want to lynch someone for doing something that I might have done had I been in his place.  Forcillo didn't wake up in the morning planning to kill an 18-year-old.  He got caught up in a difficult situation and made choices we hope never to have to make.    

It's a tricky one.  Let's at least recognize that.     


The Mound of Sound said...

I don't see this as tricky at all, Marie. The nine rounds were fired in the span of 13 seconds. The first three rounds were fired in the first two seconds. CCTV camera video shows Yatim went down with the first round. He stayed down while further rounds were fired into him.

After those first three rounds there's a five second pause. Five seconds, more than enough to re-evaluate the situation, to discern that this kid is clearly no longer a threat to anyone. Then four more rounds, a pause, the eighth round, a pause, round nine.

That five second pause transforms this from anything even arguably justifiable into an execution. The cops will and are trying to spin this as one incident. It's not. It's two shooting incidents linked by that five second pause.

The rest of it, as Anon puts it, is "cop bullshit."

Lorne said...

You mention, Marie, that Forcillo couldn't talk him down, but there is no indication that any of the police there even made an attempt to do so. Simply to order that Yatim drop the knife, and then to kill him a few seconds later when he failed to comply, suggests something deeply disturbing about the police response.

Anonymous said...

IYou don't try to own the progressive mind, you respect it.

Marie Snyder said...

One article has this line: "One policing source said, as stark as it may seem to the regular public, officers are trained to shoot to kill and to keep shooting until the threat has stopped moving." If they're trained to kill, then he was following his training. Is the problem with this one officer, or with the way the cops here are trained? If it's the latter, then should Forcillo lose his job or be charged with murder as some suggest? I think the police system needs a serious overhaul, but I'm not sure individuals acting within the system that trained them this way should bear the full brunt of the responsibility.

The Mound of Sound said...

What that line is saying, Marie, is that they're trained to execute. Wounded people are often in agony and they thrash around which, according to this 'policing source' justifies more gunfire.

Watch the CCTV recording. Yatim can be seen to flinch as bullets hit his body. Is that cop code for "might I have another please sir"? Cops are subject to the Criminal Code just like every one else and there is no curriculum that can give them immunity for executing civilians. They just like to act that way.

Forcillo should be standing trial for those final six shots. He wasn't in danger, they weren't necessary and he had ample time to think the situation through. That was not an officer taking down a threat. That was an execution.

Here's a question for you. What if Forcillo had paused not just five seconds but perhaps 55-seconds before resuming fire on his prone target? Is a five second pause okay but a 55-second interruption somehow different? Why? The truth is that neither one of them is justifiable except, perhaps, to police officers with really twisted notions of their licence to kill.

When we entrust them with firearms they accept a great responsibility in how they are to be used. They have the same responsibility we expect from our soldiers only perhaps even more as our own soldiers, unlike our cops, rarely target us.

So, until you find some exemption for cop execution in the Criminal Code, it's the law not cop bullshit that governs the lethal actions of Forcillo. Marie, don't eat that stuff, it's horseshit.

Anonymous said...

Excuses, excuses from the highly paid cops and their fanatical supporters. Yatim is a victim of murder. The public is at risk while Forcillo walks free. He and the police force are both to blame. Chief Blair needs to be fired.

The Mound of Sound said...

You did it, Marie. You made me drag out my vintage (law school) copy of Martin's Criminal Code of Canada that led me, in turn, to check out the current statute. Here it is, Section 26:

26. Every one who is authorized by law to use force is criminally responsible for any excess thereof according to the nature and quality of the act that constitutes the excess.

If Forcillo used "excess force" (and that is beyond obvious) then he stands criminally responsible for it. Now if any cop, including whoever you mentioned, doesn't know that section of the Criminal Code or is so warped as to believe some police academy training manual overrides the laws of Canada, then we should not be giving these characters guns of any sort.

Yes, if Yatim was a lumberjack with an axe who kept charging at police even as they fired, the officer would be justified to keep firing. That's not what happened. Yatim went down with the first shot. Apparently the purpose of the remaining eight rounds was to see that he remained down - forever.

We don't permit civilians to use ignorance of the law as an excuse to escape liability even though most have no education in it. Why on earth would we allow someone who is trained in the criminal law, especially as it applied to them in use of force, to act as though they'd never heard of it?

A key aspect of criminal punishment is to deter others from the same conduct. Given the platoon of cops who stood by and chose not to intervene over those lethal 13-seconds, it's pretty obvious they could use a healthy serving of deterrence from the prosecution and imprisonment of Forcillo. By the same token, allowing Forcillo to walk sets a precedent legitimizing execution by cop.

For the sake of our society, we cannot abide Forcillo or his type.

Marie Snyder said...

I agree Yatim was the victim of a murder, and legally that might mean Forcillo is a murderer, but ethically I question if it's entirely his fault when the entire system is corrupted. It's like in the Abu Ghraib photo scandal when Linndey England got court marshalled. She definitely did something wrong, something illegal and heinous, but she was part of a system that encouraged that behaviour - I was, and continue to be, frustrated by the fact that her superior officers got nothing!

I'm responding to the lynch-mob mentality that has prosecuted without a trial. I hate when a system is corrupted, and it's the youngest members that burn for the crimes of the entire unit. That's just not right.

For me, it's not a question of whether or not what he did was wrong - of course it was wrong, but of whether or not he did what his superiors trained him to do - in which case it's not entirely his fault, and, ethically, I don't think he shouldn't bear the brunt of the entire case.

Yes an individual still has the ability to override their training and rise above their superiors, but that's a harder thing to do than most people can manage. I'm not sure I could do it myself, so I'm loathe to judge.

Marie Snyder said...

I threw a double negative in there - I meant to say: I don't think he should bear the brunt of the entire case.

The Mound of Sound said...

No one, other than the Crown, can prosecute Forcillo. People, having watched all three videos, each from a different perspective, can express their opinions. The officer has been roundly defended by his fellow cops with claims that it's all covered in the training manual, standard procedure stuff. He's not been prosecuted but they're acquitting him, readily absolving him.

Forcillo deserves to bear the full weight of the law on this shooting. Marie, he's not a civilian. Anyone who takes the "King's shilling" accepts unique responsibilities. He's given the authority of the criminal justice system. He's given a gun and the power to decide life or death. He's not stocking shelves in some grocery store. No one else's finger was on the trigger. No one ordered him to fire. No one was cajoling Forcillo into action.

The other officers should have stopped him after that first, 3-round volley and they should be sanctioned for their failure to protect the life of young Yatim. But that should be in addition to Forcillo's punishment, not in lieu of it.

Anonymous said...

The officer made a decision to use deadly force out of legitimate concern for safety of himself and others. He continued down that road because... he is a murdering killer? That doesn't seem to fit.

Anonymous said...

We largely cannot trust the police because of these incidents. Yet we should pray for James Forcillo as I believe he has a big ego and a bad spirit that needs to be tamed by God.


Anonymous said...

I believe that James Forcillo should be convicted of this heinous crime.

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