Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Toronto Taxpayers on Hook for Outcome of Sammy Yatim Civil Lawsuits

TORONTO - Const. James Forcillo was found guilty of a heinous crime, but he isn’t the only one who will now have to pay. We are on the hook as well.

Bad enough that we continue to shell out Forcillo’s salary while he’s suspended and sits at home awaiting sentencing — a process that will only begin in mid-May and could stretch out for weeks. But as taxpayers, we will also be dinged for whatever Toronto Police agree to pay to settle the lawsuits filed on behalf of Sammy Yatim’s family.

There’s little doubt that finding the officer guilty of attempted murder will help the $8-million civil lawsuit filed by Yatim’s mother, Sahar Bahadi, and his sister Sara Yatim and the $7-million suit launched by his father, Nabil. But even though we are footing the bill, such settlements are typically covered by confidentiality agreements.

“These civil suits just disappear from sight unless it goes to trial,” says lawyer Peter Rosenthal, who has represented many families of police shooting victims. “We never hear about them again.”

How much responsibility is admitted in these cases? How much is paid on the public dime? How many will it take for changes to be enforced? It’s not for us to know.

Bahadi and her daughter are suing Forcillo, former police chief Bill Blair and the Toronto Police Services Board for $8 million in damages, alleging negligence, assault, battery and misfeasance in public office. Originally filed in October 2013, their statement of claim says the 18-year-old was suffering “an acute emotional disturbance” when he was fatally shot by Forcillo. Their lawsuit claims police conduct was “high-handed, shocking and contemptuous” and the force applied against Yatim was “excessive and unreasonable” and “not justifiable in law.”

Their statement of claim also alleges the officers dealing with the teen weren’t properly trained in conflict resolution or de-escalation and suffered from psychological problems that made them unfit to be police officers.

A particularly interesting contention is that Toronto Police didn’t properly supervise their officers. We’ve learned since the trial that Forcillo had been automatically flagged at least twice for drawing his firearm more than an acceptable number of times but never received any caution or retraining.
The women are seeking damages for “anxiety, depression, as well as physical and psychological conditions.”

Yatim’s father, who is divorced from his mother, filed a separate lawsuit in the summer, naming Forcillo, Sgt. Dan Pravica — who administered the Taser — as well as the former police chief and police board. He alleges officers “intentionally and recklessly applied deadly force.”

None of the allegations in either lawsuit have been proven in court.

In his statement of defence to the women’s lawsuit, Forcillo said he acted in a competent and professional manner that was in accordance with his police training. In their own statement of defence, the police board agreed, saying officers that night used “no more force than was reasonably necessary” to deal with the knife-wielding 18-year-old.

A jury obviously disagreed.

This is hardly the first lawsuit launched by relatives of police shooting victims; Rosenthal acted for Jackie Christopher, whose son O’Brien Christopher-Reid, 26, was shot and killed by three Toronto Police officers while he was suffering delusions in Edwards Gardens in 2004 and is also representing Michael Eligon’s family after the mentally ill man was shot in 2012 near Coxwell Ave. after escaping Toronto East General Hospital and arming himself with scissors.

According to three-year-old figures, Toronto Police have paid more than $27 million to settle civil lawsuits since 2000, including dozens for false arrest and use of force.

As former Ontario ombudsman Andre Marin has said, “It seems to be like Groundhog Day. Inquest after inquest, police shooting after police shooting.” And lawsuit after lawsuit.

Considering the jury’s damning finding on Forcillo, the public purse may be ordered to ante up more damages thanks to a Toronto Police service that too often doesn’t know how to deal with the emotionally disturbed.

“Nothing in this world will compensate me for the loss of my son, nor will anything bring him back to me,” Yatim’s mother told reporters after the verdict.

But we owe her just the same.

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