Toronto

Dafonte Miller testifies against cop, brother who allegedly beat him with metal pipe

Dafonte Miller testified Wednesday that an off-duty Toronto police constable hit him repeatedly with a metal pipe during a beating in a residential neighbourhood of Whitby nearly three years ago.

Miller, then 19, lost his left eye after beating on Dec. 28, 2016

Dafonte Miller, shown here in a photo obtained from the Special Investigations Unit, was 19 years old at the time of the alleged beating. (Special Investigations Unit)

Dafonte Miller testified Wednesday he didn't get a chance to fight back as an off-duty Toronto police officer and his brother hit him repeatedly and struck him on the head with a long metal pipe nearly three years ago.

Onlookers packed into the Ontario Superior Court in Oshawa to hear Miller, now in his early 20s, describe his version of what occurred on Dec. 28, 2016 in a residential area of Whitby, Ont.

It was the first time the court heard from Miller since the trial of Michael Theriault — an officer with Toronto police 42 Division — and his brother Christian Theriault began on Oct. 29. They are jointly charged with one count each of aggravated assault, and obstructing justice for how they portrayed the incident to investigators.

They have both pleaded not guilty.

The alleged attack badly damaged Miller's left eye, which had to be surgically removed. He also suffered reduced vision in his right eye, as well as a broken orbital bone, nose, jaw and wrist. Miller was 19 at the time of the incident.

Under questioning from his lawyer, Miller said the brothers confronted him and two male companions on Erickson Drive, near the Theriault family home. Michael Theriault identified himself as a police officer and demanded that Miller and his friends answer questions about what they were doing in the area, he said.

After a brief discussion, Miller testified, he and his friends tried to run from the brothers.

While his two friends managed to escape, the brothers caught up with Miller in an area between two adjacent houses and begin punching and kicking him, Miller told the court.

Christian Theriault, left, Crown attorney Linda Shin, middle, and Michael Theriault, right, in an Oshawa courtroom as Dafonte Miller testifies. (Sketch by Pam Davies)

A man with long hair, believed to be Christian Theriault, placed him in a headlock while a man with short hair, believed to be Michael Theriault, struck Miller's back and body, the 22-year-old testified. Miller said he squirmed out of the headlock after feeling something hard hit his head.

It was then that he first saw the pipe, Miller told the court.

The short-haired man was wielding the pipe, hitting Miller's face and head as the young man tried to shield himself with his right arm, he said. The long-haired man, he said, "pretty much helped his brother."

At one point, Miller was on the ground, but then got up and ran towards the door of a nearby house, he said.

"I didn't really get a chance to fight back, I was more trying to defend my face," Miller told the court. "I seen the pipe, you know. I was trying to use the rest of my strength to get out."

Dafonte Miller looks at a piece of paper held up by Crown attorney Linda Shin in an Oshawa courtrooom. (Sketch by Pam Davies)

Miller said he made his way from the side of the house to the front door and got hit with the pipe on the porch of the home. While knocking on the door of the house, Miller testified that he got hit in the back of the head. 

'At that point. I wasn't really feeling anything anymore'

"I see blood splash on the floor and on the door," he told the court.

"At that point. I wasn't really feeling anything anymore. I was pretty much just watching it."

Miller then called 911 but Michael Theriault seized the phone partway through the call.

Some in the courtroom cried as the 911 call was played aloud Wednesday. Miller can be heard in the background shouting "You've got the wrong guy" as Michael Theriault speaks to the dispatcher.

Soon, officers arrived at the scene, closely followed by an ambulance, Miller said. "I didn't even think that I was going to make it to the hospital," he said.

Dafonte Miller before and after the beating in December 2016. (Leisa Lewis)

After the shorter-haired one took his phone, Miller said he was put on his stomach, with the man on his back.

Asked if he saw what happened to the pipe, Miller said: "No. I was on my stomach, he was on my back until the cruisers came." 

Miller testified he remembers being put in handcuffs and being asked questions by officers who appeared. "I really didn't even think I was going to make it to the hospital, all the blood that I was seeing," he added.

Brothers claim Miller attacked them with pipe

Miller was supposed to enter the witness box on Tuesday, but proceedings took longer than expected and his testimony was pushed back a day. 

Court previously heard that the Theriault brothers told police that they caught Miller breaking into their parents' truck and confronted him. Both claimed that Miller had attacked them with a pipe and that they feared for their lives during the encounter.

This photo of a cellphone and a metal pipie was taken at the scene by Const. Jennifer Bowler on the night of the incident and later submitted as evidence in court. (Ontario Court of Justice)

Miller, however, said he and two friends were waiting to meet some girls when they were confronted by the brothers.

The long-haired man asked if they were from the neighbourhood, and Miller's friend Antonio Jack said no, pointing to the area where they lived, he testified. The short-haired one then asked what they were doing there, Miller said.

Miller said he asked why they were being questioned and the short-haired man replied that "he's a cop, he can ask what he wants." 

Miller then testified the two men chased them, and began beating him after he tried to run to the front door of a home.

Eye 'pretty much burst' during beating, Miller says

Miller told the court his left eye "pretty much burst" during the incident and he has since undergone two surgeries help repair the area. He said he now wears a prosthetic eye on that side.

Photo of Dafonte Miller submitted as part of court evidence from the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), who were notified about the case on April 27, 2017, nearly four months after the alleged assault. (Special Investigations Unit)

The young man said his right eye was also badly hurt and he was initially told he could go blind on that side as well. Miller also said the "structural bones" of his face were broken as a result of the incident, his wrist was fractured and he had bruises in many places.

For months, Miller stayed home, rarely venturing out and never by himself, he said.

"I was just shaken up a lot," he said, adding he knew he looked different and didn't want to be around people.

Michael Theriault suspended with pay since July 2017

Michael Theriault has been suspended with pay since July 18, 2017, the day he was charged by Ontario's Special Investigations Unit, according to a spokesperson for Toronto police.

Michael Theriault, left, and Christian Theriault outside the Oshawa courtroom last week. Michael Theriault, a Toronto police constable, was off duty at the time of the alleged attack. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

He was off duty when he allegedly beat Miller.

The SIU, which investigates cases in which civilians are injured in interactions with police, charged Christian Theriault on July 20, 2017.

Former SIU director Tony Loparco said in a news release that the SIU alleges that the Theriaults "acted together and were parties to the same assault upon" Miller.

The court has heard from the two men who were with Miller that night, four Durham Regional Police Service officers who responded to calls about possible car thefts and a fight, and a neighbour who witnessed part of the alleged beating.

The judge-alone case is being heard by Justice Joseph Di Luca.

With files from Lorenda Reddekopp, Canadian Press

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