More than 19,000 viewers watched the live streaming last Friday of the decision in the high profile case of a Toronto police officer who was convicted of assault in the beating of a young Black man more than three years ago.
Dafonte Miller, 22, victim of the assault, lost an eye as a result of the beating.
The case attracted national attention and sparked protests about violent confrontations between police and Black people.
Now Julian Falconer, a lawyer for Miller, is calling for a federal Commission of Inquiry ” to bring out the truth about beatings and killings of racialized and Indigenous people in police custody.”
Constable Michael Theriault and his brother, Christian, had pleaded not guilty to aggravated assault and obstruction of justice in relation to the incident on December 28, 2016 and its aftermath.
On the assault charge, Constable Theriault was convicted and his brother was acquitted.
Both men were acquitted of obstruction of justice.
At the judge-only trial before Ontario Superior Court Justice Joseph Di Luca, Miller had testified that he was walking with friends in a residential Whitby neighbourhood when he encountered the Theriault brothers, who demanded to know where they lived and what they were doing.
They then chased him and proceeded to punch, kick and beat him with a metal pipe, he said.
But Michael Theriault testified that he and his brother caught Miller and a friend attempting to break into their father’s truck and chased him. He said Miller struck them with a pipe and they hit him in self-defence while trying to disarm him.
Evidence was also given by Durham Regional Police officers who attended the scene, a homeowner who witnessed part of the alterrcation and called 911, and two men Miller was with on the night in question, among others
The court was told that when police responded to the scene that morning, an officer arrested Miller for allegedly breaking into the Theriaults’ father’s vehicle and allowed Mchael Theriault, who was holding down Miller at the time on the driveway, to handcuff Miller. After Miller was taken to hospital, the Theriaults were questioned about what happened.
But a few months later, all charges against Miller were dropped and the Theriault brothers were charged.
In his closing arguments, defence lawyer Michael Lacy characterized Miller as a “perjurer.” He pointed to inconsistencies in what Miller told investigators, what he testified during the preliminary hearing and then what he said from the witness box.
He also pointed out that other Crown witnesses – in particular, one of the men who was with Miller the night of the altercation – presented evidence that supported Michael Theriault’s story: that Miller and his friends were entering unlocked vehicles that evening to steal valuables..
But in the Crown’s closing arguments, prosecutor Linda Shin argued that it didn’t matter whether the judge believed the reason Miller was on the street that night – there was independent evidence that backed up Miller’s account.
The front door of a house where Miller sought help in the midst of his beating was stained which is evidence of Miller being struck in the face with the pipe, which caused the ijury to his eye.
“A retreating Dafonte Miller was the victim of a vicious, two-on-one assault by Michael and Christian Theriault that left him with life-altering injuries, ” Shin said
In reading his decision on Friday, Di Luca said he was mindful of the social context surrounding the case.
The case, and others like it, “raise significant issues involving race and policing that should be further examined,” he said.
But the judge pointed out that this task was not to conduct a public inquiry on race and policing, or to deliver the verdict sought by the public — it was to determine the case based on the evidence.
Commenting after the verdict was delivered, Falconer said ” what is noteworthy is that Dafonte Miller almost seemed to be as much on trial as the Theriault brothers.”
“This is not an isolated incident. This is not about one bad apple. This is happening across North America not because all police are bad but because the ongoing victimization of racialized and indigenous people as a result of police abuse and police violence is systemic chronic problem, he pointed out.