By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express
Michael Theriault has been found guilty of assault.
Theriault, an officer with the Toronto Police services, who was off-duty at the time, and his brother Christian, were on trial after a violent clash with Dafonte Miller, a black man from Whitby, which took place more than three years ago.
The incident resulted in the victim eventually losing his left eye. He also suffered a broken orbital bone, broken nose, and a fractured wrist in the attack.
The verdict was handed down virtually today by Justice Di Luca, as all parties were practicing social distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Approximately 20,000 people were viewing the trial, and a crowd of supporters were gathered outside of the Oshawa Courthouse.
Initially, Miller was arrested by Durham Regional Police and charged with assault with a weapon, theft under $5,000, and possession of marijuana.
However, after an investigation by the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) was requested by Miller’s lawyer, Julian Falconer, the charges were dropped and an investigation was conducted as to why neither DRPS nor Toronto Police Services called in the SIU.
Since then, Theriault has been suspended with pay from the Toronto Police force, and the DRPS has announced changes to their notification guidelines.
Di Luca began the approximately four-and-a-half-hour long session by noting the case has gained attention not only from the media, but the public as well.
He added this case, and others like it, raise significant issues involving police and race, noting these issues need to be addressed.
Throughout the day, Di Luca discussed the credibility on both sides, as he says evidence indicates both were attempting to “distance themselves” from certain issues.
For Miller, it was the accusations he and a friend had been attempting to break into peoples cars, and for the brothers, it was the use of the pipe with which Miller was beaten.
The brothers had claimed Miller had pulled the pipe from his pants, but Di Luca questioned this as he found it unlikely Miller would have been able to run with a pipe in his pant leg.
This, along with several other inconsistencies, saw Di Luca questioning the credibility of evidence on both sides.
“Ultimately… there are aspects of their evidence that leave me concerned about their overall credibility,” he says about the brothers.
When it came to Miller however, Di Luca says he must acknowledge the realities of racialized individuals while assessing his credibility.
“As a young black man, Mr. Miller may well have had any number of reasons for denying his wrongdoing,” he says, adding Miller’s credibility isn’t damaged by his “act of petty theft.”
Ultimately though, Di Luca says he won’t be influenced by public opinion in making his decision, adding trials are based on evidence, not opinion.
“To be clear, my task is not to be swayed or influenced by the attention given to this case,” he says.
Speaking on the final charges, Di Luca spoke about probability.
“It was probably an assault… however, as with all criminal cases, probability is not a sufficient standard or proof,” he says.
In the end, Theriault saw his charges downgraded from aggravated assault and obstruction of justice to assault, and Christian was found not guilty on all charges.
The matter will return to the Oshawa Courthouse on July 15 with Theriault remaining on bail until then.