Toronto

Assault victim Dafonte Miller blasts Toronto police after OIPRD report release

Assault victim Dafonte Miller and his lawyer both slammed Toronto police's response to a report by the Office of the Independent Police Review Director on Friday.

Lawyer Julian Falconer alleges coverup, points to wave of retirements

Dafonte Miller has responded to an Office of the Independent Police Review Director report probing the circumstances surrounding his beating at the hands of an off-duty Toronto cop. Here, you can see his face on a protest sign outside a Toronto courthouse. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Assault victim Dafonte Miller and his lawyer both slammed Toronto police's response to a report by the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD), which showed former Toronto police chief Mark Saunders was "kept in the dark" for five months about Miller's beating at the hands of an off-duty Toronto cop.

During a telephone news conference Friday, Julian Falconer, who is acting as legal counsel for Miller and his family, alleged there has been a coverup in the case, and pointed to a wave of retirements of police officers connected to it. You can read the full OIPRD report at the bottom of this story.

"Somebody had to do a lot of work to keep this secret," Falconer said.

"What is crystal clear is that the concerns over a coverup are legitimate. How it was orchestrated remains a question. That the chief is able to claim ignorance as a defence is obvious."

In a statement issued Friday, Miller said for the first time this week, Toronto police "finally acknowledged that they were wrong" for not notifying the province's Special Investigations Unit (SIU) after Const. Michael Theriault assaulted him in 2016.

"The chief's press conference and the OIPRD report came as a complete surprise to me and my family. Sincere apologies are important, public relations exercises are not," he said. "I believe that true accountability comes from professionals owning up to their mistakes. I have never heard from former chief Saunders.

'This does nothing to build bridges'

"Until yesterday morning, minutes before he went public, I had never heard of interim chief [James] Ramer. Sadly, this does nothing to build bridges — they are simply making it worse for me and my family."

Miller's comments come a day after after Ramer said that the service "made the wrong decision" when it chose not to report Miller's beating to the SIU. Instead, the agency found out through Miller's lawyer months later.

Dafonte Miller arrives for his testimony at the Durham Region Courthouse in Oshawa, Ont., in 2019. (Cole Burston/The Canadian Press)

Ramer said the Toronto Police Service will update its policy to state explicitly that any instance in which a civilian is injured during an interaction with an officer, whether they are on- or off-duty, is reported to the SIU.

"I will ensure that the SIU makes the decision on whether to invoke their mandate," Ramer said.

Falconer called Ramer's news conference a "circus," and said it has left Miller feeling despondent. He said police put public relations ahead of a "horribly treated youth."

"In those circumstances, predictably, they've made it worse. It's sort of a degrading exercise," Falconer said.

Beating left him blind in one eye

Miller, then 19, was assaulted by off-duty Toronto police Const. Michael Theriault on Dec. 28, 2016, in Whitby, Ont., not far from the Theriault family home. The beating left Miller blind in his left eye, and with a broken jaw and arm.

During the trial of Theriault and his brother Christian — a civilian who was also alleged to have been involved in the beating — it was revealed he had clearly identified himself as a Toronto police employee to the Durham Regional Police officers who responded to the scene.

Ramer said Thursday that a Toronto police "SIU designate" officer would have been informed of the details of the situation shortly after the incident, and a decision was made not to notify the SIU. Durham police also chose not to tell the SIU.

Falconer said Friday that the Toronto police chief's SIU designate, Insp. Ed Boyd, has "magically" retired, as has Saunders, former Durham police chief Paul Martin and John Theriault, the Theriault brothers' father, who at the time was a senior officer with Toronto police and was serving in the professional standards unit.

Falconer called that "extraordinary turnover."

"It seems to be a retirement bug that is affecting this case," he said.

Civil lawsuit also before courts

In June 2020, Theriault was convicted of assault for his role in Miller's beating. He was found not guilty of two other charges stemming from the incident — aggravated assault and obstruction of justice.

His brother Christian was acquitted of aggravated assault and obstruction of justice. The Crown has since filed an appeal of both verdicts. A civil lawsuit is also before the courts.

"You can't retire out of a civil suit," Falconer said, although he also noted that civil lawsuits take time to unfold and are sometimes settled out of court.

Michael Theriault remains employed by the Toronto Police Service, Ramer said, as several appeal motions are moving through the court system, and no final decision will be made on Theriault's future with the force until the criminal matter is resolved.

At the core of this case, Falconer said, is the concept that society is entitled to police officers being held to a standard that is at least as high as the general public, if not higher.

"And of course we're not seeing that."

Here's the full OIPRD report, which was released Friday by Miller's legal team:

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For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada on CBCNews.ca.

About the Author

Adam Carter

Reporter

Adam Carter is a Newfoundlander who now calls Toronto home. He enjoys a good story and playing loud music. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamCarterCBC or drop him an email at adam.carter@cbc.ca.

With files from Lucas Powers

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