Toronto police apologize for not notifying SIU about Dafonte Miller beating

Dafonte Miller

Toronto’s interim police chief, James Ramer has apologized for the force’s decision to not notify the province’s police watchdog after an off-duty officer assaulted Dafonte Miller, a young Black man in 2016.

Ramer said on Thursday that police didn’t notify the Special Investigations Unit  (SIU)about the beating of  Miller because the police officer, Constable Michael Theriault, was off-duty at the time of the incident.

.”As a result of that decision, trust has been broken between the police, Dafonte Miller and the broader community,” said Ramer in delivering the apology.

“We understand clearly now the legislation does not distinguish between on-duty and off-duty conduct, and neither will we.”

The force will change its policy to explicitly state that the SIU must be notified when either on- or off-duty officers are involved in an incident that leads to a death, serious injury or alleged sexual assault, Ramer said.

The apology came after the release of an independent review of former chief Mark Saunders’ handling of the incident.

The investigation into Saunders was completed by the Office of the Independent Police Review Director  (OIPRD) and alleged the former chief breached the Police Services Act by not reporting the incident to the SIU.

But  accordingn to Julian Falconer, lawyer for the Miller family,  the report found the Saunders was kept in the dark about the incident for five months,

“What the report proves is that officers subordinate of Chief Saunders, specifically the officers that were in charge of receiving information about the violent assault of a member of the public, deliberately chose to keep the SIU in the dark and therefor bypassed a timely investigation,” he said.

The long-sought admission follows years of outcry and allegations of a cover-up by Toronto and Durham Regional police, whose officers responded to the December 2016 assault in Whitby, near the Theriault family home.

Michael Theriault was  charged with aggravated assault along with his younger brother, Christian Theriault.Last June,  both brothers were found not guilty of that charge, but Michael Theriault was convicted of the less serious offence of assault. The brothers were also found not guilty of attempting to obstruct justice in the case.

A sentencing hearing for Michael Theriault is scheduled to be held next month.

Crown lawyers have appealed the acquittals of Constable Theriault and his brother, Christian.

The attack left Miller  blind in one eye and with other serious injuries.

Ramer, who is taking over the top job from former chief Mark Saunders until a permanent replacement is found, said on Thursday last  that addressing anti-Black systemic racism will be one of his priorities in the position.

However, Miller has not accepted Ramer’s apology.

“Sincere apologies are important, public relations exercises are not,” Miller said in a statement through his lawyer, Julian Falconer.

“The chief’s press conference and the OIPRD report came as a complete surprise to me and my family,”  Millere said.

The way it was handled, said Miller through his lawyer, “sadly does nothing to build bridges.”