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Miller case a “wake-up call” for police

Local residents gathered outside of the Oshawa courthouse in support of Dafonte Miller during the trial for the Toronto police officer and his brother after an incident that took place in 2016. (Photos by Randy Nickerson)

By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express

The guilty verdict of assault in the case of an off-duty Toronto police officer who severely beat a black man was a “wake-up call”, according to Durham Regional Police Chief Paul Martin.

Martin released a statement after Friday’s verdict at the Oshawa Courthouse in which Michael Theriault was found guilty of assault against Dafonte Miller of Whitby.  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 Miller, 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.

Calling the case disturbing, Martin says the “deep anger” caused by the assault must be acknowledged.

“Sadly, we cannot undo events of the past, nor erase the suffering this incident inflicted on a young man and his family,” he says. “But we must learn from our mistakes, fix flaws in our policing when we identify them, and commit to doing whatever is necessary to earn the trust of the citizens we serve every day.”

Martin admits the system is not without flaws but says he aims to fix some of the issues, including changing the process for calling in the SIU.

“It was clear to me that the regulations did not serve the best interests of justice, the victim, or our community,” Martin continues. “I therefore notified the Attorney General of Ontario that, in future, this department would follow a different procedure to engage the SIU, a procedure I believe is more transparent and accountable.”

The verdict was handed down virtually by Justice Di Luca. Approximately 20,000 people were viewing the trial online, 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 cars, and for the Theriault, it was the use of the pipe with which Miller was beaten.

The brothers 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.