The lawyer for a man accused in a disturbing daylight shooting that wounded two children at a Scarborough playground says his client intends on pleading not guilty.
The two sisters were at a playground on Alton Towers Circle near McCowan Road and McNicoll Avenue on June 14 when gunshots rang out.
Toronto police said that at least seven shots were fired, some of which struck the girls.
The five-year-old suffered critical injuries but her condition later improved. The nine-year-old girl was hospitalized in serious but non-life-threatening condition.
Police made the first arrest in the case one day later.
A suspect identified as 21-year-old Sheldon Eriya, of Markham, is facing seven charges, including two counts of attempted murder.
Eriya’s lawyer, Lenny Hochberg, told reporters after his court appearance Thursday that his client is “not a violent person.”
“He’s never possessed a gun,” he said. “He’s never shot a gun.”
Hochberg said he intends on proving his client’s innocence by identifying flaws in the police investigation as a result of low staffing levels in the Toronto Police Service.
“I follow the news just like anybody else. We know that the Toronto Police Association (TPA) says that there are not enough police on the streets, that the staff is stretched very thin,” Hochberg said.
“So we’ve commenced our own investigation and we’ve gathered evidence which is going to indicate that our client was not involved in the shooting of June 14, which occurred in a playground.”
The ongoing conflict between the police association and Chief Mark Saunders over a perceived staffing shortage has been a contested issue while plans to modernize the force get in motion.
In the past, the TPA has taken out billboards on the Gardiner Expressway to call attention to the supposed cuts by vilifying the chief, Toronto Mayor John Tory and Toronto Police Services Board Chair Andrew Pringle.
Hochberg suggested the “problem with the number of police officers” hampered the police investigation in this case and has had a direct effect on why his client was charged in this case. The allegations have not been proven in court.
“Anything’s possible at this point, but I can tell you that he was not involved in the shooting. He had no prior knowledge of a shooting,” Hochberg said.
He added that he’s “awaiting disclosure” about Eriya’s criminal history but is under the impression “he does not have any prior convictions whatsoever.”
Earlier this week, police identified two other suspects they allege played a role in the shooting.
Tarrick Rhoden, 23, and T’Quan Robertson, 23, are wanted for two counts of aggravated assault, attempted murder, and discharging a firearm with intent.
Rhoden is described as six-foot-one and approximately 181 pounds, while Robertson is believed to be five-foot-eight and 130 pounds.
Hochberg would not say whether Eriya knew the two outstanding suspects.
Police say the outstanding men are believed to be armed and urge anyone who spot the men to keep their distance and call 911 immediately.
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