He loses an eye while police lose their way

On December 28th, 2016,

Dafonte Miller before and after

, a 19 year-old black man, was beaten so badly by an off-duty Toronto police, Michael Theriault, and his younger brother Christian Theriault, that he lost an eye. The incident occurred in Ajax outside the home of Jim Silverthorn, who witnessed the incident. Silverthorn’s interest was sustained as a desperate Miller banged on his door asking for help. These facts were not in doubt in the ongoing trial of the Theriaults, who are charged with aggravated assault and attempting to obstruct justice.

The incident was investigated by the Durham police who charged Miller with theft of under $5,000.00 – the charge was subsequently withdrawn.

The trial has so far revealed the following: around 2am, Miller and two friends, Antonio Jack and Bradley Goode were walking pass the house where the Theriaults lived. Miller says they were simply walking on their way home; the Theriaults say that they caught them in their father’s truck which was on the driveway; the two men ran as the Theriaults gave chase. They went after Miller who ran in one direction while the other two ran the other way. They caught up with Miller just outside Silverthorn’s house and admitted giving him a severe beating.

A three foot metal pipe was used during the altercation – who had it and who used it is in dispute, although Silverthorn said that one of the Theriault brothers was using the pipe to pin Miller down.

What the three young men were doing on the street at that time of the morning is in dispute: Bradley Goode testified that they were “car hopping” (stealing from unlocked cars); both Miller and Jack denied Goode’s version; they claim that they visited a friend to get marijuana, some of which they had in their possession. What is not in dispute is that Miller lost an eye as a result of the beating he received.

When a civilian is seriously injured or dies during a police investigation, the province’s police watchdog, the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) must be informed by the police service involved. The Durham police did not do that. Instead the SIU was informed 5 months later by lawyer, Julian Falconer, who was retained by the Miller family.

The incident in isolation is pretty straightforward, and should be resolved one way or another soon after the trial ends.

More problematic are the actions of both the Durham police and the Toronto police. The Durham officer who was first at the scene said that a look at Miller’s injury made her a little queasy, but apparently the blood pouring from the pulp of underlying flesh was not enough to report it to the SIU. Instead the Durham police ensured that due consideration was given to off-duty cop Michael Theriault while Miller was charged with theft. This all points to an attempt to transform what seems an act of vigilantism into a “justified” police action – the accused took precedence over the victim.

Meanwhile Detective John Theriault, father of the two accused and a 30-year veteran of the Toronto police force, seemed to have had a pipe line to the Durham police brass, and is now under investigation for being instrumental in ensuring that the SIU was not notified, and taking part in a cover up to conceal his sons’ crimes. Consequently, the Toronto police removed Theriault Sr from his position in the professional standards unit while the Toronto Police Service Board called in the Waterloo police to perform an internal investigation into the Toronto police’s failure to inform the SIU. 

The Toronto Police Service Board has said that it is yet to receive the Waterloo police report, which is rather strange considering that the probe began in mid-2017. It’s a safe bet that the contents of the report are not likely to look good on Detective John Theriault, after all he’s already facing serious charges including concealing his sons’ crimes.

While a young man losing his eye is a tragedy, this case is a lot bigger than that, and reaches into the very heart of two police services that on the face of it did much to conceal a serious criminal offence committed by one of its own.

This is hardly an unusual occurrence as far as police forces go. But it doesn’t get less serious when it happens again.