Tuesday, July 30, 2013

New footage of Sammy Yatim shooting one more troubling snapshot

Over the past few days, Toronto and the rest of Canada has been granted access to online video recordings of the shooting death of Sammy Yatim, who was killed following a police interaction while brandishing a knife on an empty downtown streetcar.

The small video snapshots we've seen – with another, most vivid video coming on Tuesday – paint a picture that has even Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair calling the incident troubling. He is vowing to provide answers, we continue to demand them. But as we do that, we come to our own conclusions.

There is video of the incident shot from a long distance. There is video shot from much closer, captured amid a gathering of passersby walking in front of the camera on occasion. There is other video as well, all of it posted online for the world to see. To judge.

Toronto Police Association President Mike McCormack has asked the public to hold judgment until the full story is out. Until the investigation is complete.

He says grainy cell phone video of the incident tells only part of the story. And he is right.

Even a newly-released video, seeming to be a recording from security camera footage, only shares a snapshot, another piece to add to the puzzle. But those pieces look very, very bad.

New footage posted online shows from another angle the incident that left the 18-year-old dead. And while it runs longer than the various videos shot on cell phone cameras and released online, it is the moment of the shooting that it captures most vividly.

In previous footage, someone can be heard shouting "put down the knife" before three gun shots are heard, followed by a pause and six more shots. A brief moment later a Taser is deployed.

The recently-released security footage, shot in black-and-white, is taken from a different angle. In it, viewers can see the person on board the streetcar. They can see the person fall to the ground after the first three gunshots. They can see the person's leg twitch amid the second round of gunfire.

The officer at the centre of the incident has been suspended with pay, news of which was released late Monday night. McCormack called the move "extraordinary" and points out that the officer had not been charged or even yet accused with any wrongdoing.

"A video is just one segment of a broader picture," McCormack told CBC's Matt Galloway on Tuesday. "We have always been about due process and due diligence, but it doesn't paint the entire picture. All I'm asking is let’s let the SIU do its job."

[ More Brew: Fallout from Sammy Yatim shooting won’t end soon ]

The Toronto Police Services Board released a statement on Tuesday, calling the ongoing investigations "of the utmost importance." Even Yatim's family agrees that patience is required.

In a formal statement, obtained by CityNews, the family thanks Chief Blair for everything he is doing to "ensure that this matter is being investigated thoroughly and judiciously."

The letter further reads: "We expect that this matter will be investigated with the fullest measure of the law, so that incidents like this can be better managed and deescalated before such extreme use of force is ever exercised again."

Yes, there is plenty of video online. Reports on the content of those videos and the recollection of witnesses suggest that Yatim at one point exposed himself. They suggest the 18-year-old shouted profanity at the officer as he was told to drop the weapon. They allege no one was in immediate danger.

And they may all be right, although any of us would be on edge while in the near vicinity of a troubled soul brandishing a knife.

But so much of what happened the night Yatim was shot dead is still unclear. So much of it not captured on video.

The Ontario Special Investigations Unit is investigating. The force itself will review what happened and the province will be holding its own inquiry into what led to Yatim’s death, according to Ontario ombudsman Andre Marin.

Those investigations will consider the contents of all those public videos, video that has not yet come to light and witness testimony. Investigators will also pore over victim impact statements and first-hand accounts and render their decisions.

When all that is finished, there may be some of us who don't agree with the findings, or who question the methods or suspect the process.

Then we can demand to know the full story. But right now we are looking at snapshots. Damning, gruesome snapshots.
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