Streetcar shooting in Toronto sparks outrage about possible excessive force

Streetcar shooting: A video shows 18-year-old Sammy Yatim holding a knife inside an empty streetcar early Saturday, with police outside. Yatim goads police while officers yell, 'Drop your knife!' Shortly after, three shots are fired.

Michelle Siu/The Canadian Press/AP
A crowd marches on Dundas Street in Toronto on Monday, July 29, where Sammy Yatim was shot nine times and killed by a Toronto police officer early Saturday morning.

A Toronto police officer was suspended with pay after he fatally shot a young man wielding a knife in an empty streetcar, police said Monday, as hundreds of people in Canada's largest city protested the shooting that was caught on video and posted on YouTube.

Some protesters called it unnecessary police force. A former Toronto police detective who saw the video said it appeared that "excessive" force had been used. Investigators were looking into the circumstances surrounding the shooting, the city's police chief said.

The video shows 18-year-old Sammy Yatim holding a knife inside the streetcar early Saturday, with police outside. Yatim goads police while officers yell, "Drop your knife!" Shortly after, three shots are fired. After a pause, six more shots are fired. A Taser is later used on Yatim.

Ontario's Special Investigations Unit, which is charged with carrying out independent investigations of policeshootings, was examining the shooting. The SIU said Yatim died from multiple gunshot wounds.

Toronto police spokesman Tony Vella confirmed the officer involved has been suspended with pay.

Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair said he has seen the video and is conducting a parallel investigation. He said he understands the public's concern.

"I recognize there is a need for answers," Blair said.

Mark Mendelson, a former Toronto police detective, said investigators have the benefit of the video, which "doesn't lie."

"If you look at it on its face value at this point, it's not hard to come to the conclusion that excessive force was used," Mendelson said.

Mendelson also noted there are numerous civilian witnesses and at least two video angles of the shooting, including security camera footage.

Hundreds, including Yatim's mother and sister, took part in a march Monday evening that called for justice for Yatim and an end to police violence.

The crowd chanted "Shame!" and a handful of protesters angrily confronted police monitoring the march.

Jim Yatim, the victim's uncle, said Sammy was born to Canadian parents in Syria and came to live with his father in Canada five years ago. He said nobody ever had anything negative to say about his nephew's character.

"A tragedy has happened, and there is no undoing of what has occurred, the kid is dead. Shot down in a senseless act of one-upmanship, a trigger happy cop, a loud mouthed teen, and boom," Jim Yatim wrote in an email to The Associated Press.

"My family and I have paid the ultimate price."

A makeshift memorial for Yatim at the scene of the shooting features a pole encircled by burning candles and adorned with white roses and yellow daisies.

Toronto Police Association president Mike McCormack, who leads the police union, said the officer involved in the shooting is "devastated."

"He's just overwhelmed by the magnitude of everything," he said. McCormack added that the public shouldn't jump to conclusions before investigators collect all the facts.

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