By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
The Durham Regional Police are now conducting an internal review of how officers handled their investigation into the 2016 beating of Black teenager Dafonte Miller in Whitby that involved an off-duty Toronto police officer.
On December 28, 2016, the DRPS responded to a call in Whitby where a young man was injured. Chief Paul Martin says that “several” officers responded to the call and that after providing medical assistance to the 19-year-old Miller, he was charged with several offences, including two counts of assault with a weapon, theft and possession.
The other man involved in the incident was Toronto Police Const. Michael Theriault, who was off-duty at the time.
The incident has since come under intense scrutiny when it was made public that neither the Durham nor Toronto police service reported the incident to the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), responsible for investigating incidents of injury when a police officer is involved. It wasn’t until Miller’s lawyer informed them in April that the SIU became aware of the incident, and on July 18, following their own investigation, have charged Theriault with aggravated assault, assault with a weapon and public mischief. On July 21, the SIU laid the same charges against Theriault’s brother Christian.
Miller’s injuries have been reported as severe, including a broken nose, broken orbital bone and a fractured right wrist. The damage to one of his eyes was so bad that it will have to be surgically removed.
Since that time, both police services have come under intense scrutiny for the handling of the case.
In an interview with The Express, Chief Martin said due to the incident now being before the court, he was unable to share details from the night of Dec. 28.
“I’m aware of the concerns expressed by the community. I would really love to be able to talk more about this, but as I said, current legislation doesn’t allow me to do that,” he said.
However, he noted that an internal review of the police officers’ actions and investigation on that night would be conducted.
“I understand the community’s concern about that and why we did or didn’t do things on that evening,” he says.
He also defended the DRPS decision not to report the incident to the SIU, as under the Police Services Act, that responsibility falls to the employer of the officer.
“This is not something we’ve ever come across, in my knowledge, this type of issue. So when you don’t have a precedent, you don’t have anything else to go by, you go by the legislation and the legislation, contrary to what may be out there and what’s been reported, is quite clear and that is that the chief that employs the officer is responsible for notifying the SIU,” he says. “I’m satisfied we provided the information that we had at the time to Toronto Police Service and as far as their decision, that’s been very well reported.”
Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders has since announced that the Waterloo Regional Police will be conducting an internal review of the Toronto police actions following the incident.
As for whether Martin feels there was any moral obligation for the DRPS to report the incident, he says that while he’s satisfied with their decision, that is something that will be reviewed.
“Moral and legal responsibility are very closely tied,” he says. “The moral and ethical starting point is, are we doing what we’re legally responsible to do and that is notifying the police of jurisdiction, the chief that employs the officer. We did that and we provided them with the information that we had. Is there a moral responsibility that’s been suggested outside of there to do more than that, that is something that we will review.”
Martin also took the opportunity to respond to allegations of a police cover up in the case, noting that the facts will all come out eventually.
“I think what’ll happen at the end of the day is that I have faith in the SIU investigation and the facts of this will come out in a fulsome fashion during the trials and I think, to me, that’s going to be able to answer the questions for the community.”
Theriault is expected to appear in an Oshawa courtroom on August 10.