Friday, July 29, 2016

Forcillo's Fate

Another legal drama almost played out to-day in Toronto. Its 'star' was another of  'Tronna's finest' who felt enough fear doing that awesome job of defending, protecting and serving society, the one that we honor and reward cops for doing, to draw that pistol we provided to him and unload most of a  clip into a 'threat'.  If anything the drama proves that 'police lives matter'.

The  story in summer 2013 when a 17 year-old called Sammy Yateen got  load of dope into himself (or so toxicology reports)  and went for a tram car ride on his own, somewhere he normally didn't go, and something his folks said he normally didn't do.  Whatever was on his mind on that night,  something happened that made him expose himself and start threatening the others on that train with a pocket knife  ( it had a 3 inch blade which made it legal to carry, but not, perhaps, as impressive a the "10 centimetres" the defense team described) he happened to have with him. The result was that, while nobody was hurt, many were frightened, including the driver who, after seeing his tram evacuated tried to reason with Sammy but left, as well, when police arrived.  The first police to arrive   realized that Yateen was in a state that was not conducive to reason, and that he had that knife. They waited for back-up, which, and as usual, duly arrived - Officer Forcillo was one of them. By the time the incident ended,  there were 23 police officers on the scene -  including at least one ranking officer.

Yateen refused to surrender and while police maneuvered and decided on a best approach to ending the situation - which was by now the focus of a number of  bystanders, one of whom deployed his cell phone camera.  The videoed part of the interaction lasted 3 or 4 minutes out of the 12-15 that the whole saga lasted. There were to be 4 such video sources entered in evidence including one on the tram itself.

But it wasn't so much the saga, as the finale, that involved officer Forcillo. He was to be the 'subject officer' charged with shooting Yateen - at total of 8 times (one shot missed).  The other 22 police officers present were designated  the 'witnessing officers'  for the subsequent  SIU investigation.  For while  the world very quickly became witnesses to the 55 seconds of Officer Forcillo's part in the drama, and saw what happened, what he was seen to do was to remain 'alleged' until a court found him guilty - and that part of the saga has taken three years.   What the world saw, and that the court heard, was that Yateen threatened Forcillo from inside a streetcar. That resulted in Forcillo being one of three officers to draw their weapons and to be the only only to be threatened enough to open fire. Forcillo did that. A first volley of four shots dropped Yateen - possibly inflicting one of the fatal wounds. The second volley of five shots - fired seconds later - finished him off. Other officers standing near, or beside, Forcillo, including another one pointing his/her weapon,  did not fire.  Another officer then deployed a taser to 'render Yateen receptive to medical intervention'.  After which officers stormed the tram, Yateen was removed to be pronounced dead at a hospital.

Then it was officer Forcillo's turn.

Unlike ordinary people in such situations,  Forcillo wasn't jailed during the investigation or before, or after,  charges against him were laid.  He was suspended from work as a policeman - a harsh sort of necessity - but he received normal pay and emoluments until he was sentenced to jail yesterday, after which the Chief of Police 'suspended him from duty (in accordance with the Police Act) without pay'. (something that should have happened 'in accordance with the Police Act' on his conviction?).  His Police Association hired, and paid for, a team of 'specialist' lawyers who did their best to convince the court that Yateen had, essentially, signed his own death warrant and coerced an innocent policeman into executing it.  The court didn't buy that. The public, or the greater part of them, didn't either. Perhaps some of the 22 witness officers didn't, either, the court heard from very few (none?) of them.

In passing a sentence of 6 years, one year more than the mandatory sentence for the crime charged (attempted murder), the judge hauled out the old saws about violated trusts and duties and the needs to be held 'accountable'. But Officer Forcillo literally got away with murder. He was charged with trying to kill Yateen, not actually doing it as attempted. In the best of all possible worlds manslaughter might have been conceivable  ... but even a crack defense team couldn't rationalize  that second volley and the pause before it. Forcillo said he saw the dead man move to  "threaten him",  the tape sadly didn't agree.

Never having shot someone, or having been in any sort of position where I might have shot someone,  or even having life the stressful life ascribed to policemen, I know  disqualifies me from sharing the ideation that led Officer Forcillo to off-load, but I have felt threatened, and stressed, in my work and  I  have fired a gun, in fun.  I know from personal experience, that one good shot very often deserves another - just because. To diverge to another case recently in the news of a handicapped man and his care-giver confronted by police in Florida, after the caregiver was shot while lying on the ground with his arms extended, he asked the policeman who shot him why he'd done that. The answer was, "I  don't know."  Possibly that might have been Officer Forcillo's honest answer, but he was otherwise advised and they almost got him off  'scot free'.

What they did get him was treated differently from any other felon - until yesterday. For he is no longer 'on the force', and not protected by 'the brotherhood'. Other than never, perhaps, having to spend a day in a jail's 'general population'.  Maybe he never will, police are rarely punished for things they do 'on duty' except theft, drinking and sex - which again require almost boilerplate proof,  or dissing a superior or breaking the brotherhood bond,  which don't.

The sentence is supposed to send some sort of message to police. But Forcillo is the first policeman to have been convicted of something that happens all too regularly are 'part of a hard job'. To many people he's a scapegoat. To some who believe he did go too far they wonder of 6 years isn't too much - it won't bring back the dead kid and Focillo has already had an ordeal in court.  But that was his choice and his right and it was designed to prevent a harsher sentence - or exonerate him completely. And that's all something that wouldn't happen to a security guard or licensed gun owner who did the same thing

As he was being taken to 'protective custody' in cells below the courthouse, his lawyers were announcing there was to be an appeal launched in another court this morning that might see him freed to celebrate the long week-end and to put his finances in order, if he hadn't already done that.  He's now, almost officially, another 'bad' cop.

Hopefully a 'bad'  cop with a partial pension.

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