Toronto police 'made the wrong decision' not to report Dafonte Miller assault to SIU: interim chief

Interim Toronto police Chief James Ramer said Thursday that the service "made the wrong decision" when it chose not to report the beating of Dafonte Miller at the hands of an off-duty officer to Ontario's police watchdog.

James Ramer gives first news conference as interim police chief

Dafonte Miller, seen here arriving to court in Oshawa, Ont., for the trial of brothers Michael and Christian Theriault, was 19 years old when he was assaulted by Michael Theriault in Whitby, Ont., on Dec. 28, 2016. (Cole Burston/The Canadian Press)

Interim Toronto police Chief James Ramer said Thursday that the service "made the wrong decision" when it chose not to report the beating of Dafonte Miller at the hands of an off-duty officer to Ontario's police watchdog.

Ramer said the Toronto Police Service (TPS) 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 Special Investigations Unit (SIU).

"I will ensure that the SIU makes the decision on whether to invoke their mandate," Ramer told reporters at his first news conference since stepping into the role of interim chief on Aug. 1.

Ramer said a confidential report by the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) was shared with Miller and his legal counsel Thursday morning. The OIPRD is a civilian oversight agency that investigates public complaints against police.

Miller's lawyer, Julian Falconer, said he received the report only "minutes before" Toronto police went ahead with their news conference, and he'll be going through it with Miller before commenting on it.

Ramer declined to discuss any specifics of the report but said it primarily examined the circumstances under which a police service is obligated to notify the SIU. He went on to say that it's clear now that provincial legislation does not distinguish between an on- and off-duty officer, "and neither will we."

He went on to offer a formal apology to Miller and his family. 

"I also want to acknowledge that Mr. Miller's life has forever been impacted by the events of that evening."

WATCH | Interim Toronto police Chief James Ramer apologizes to Dafonte Miller:

Toronto police 'made the wrong decision,' on Dafonte Miller case: interim chief

2 years ago
Duration 1:26
Interim Toronto police Chief James Ramer said Thursday that the service "made the wrong decision" when it chose not to report the beating of Dafonte Miller at the hands of an off-duty officer to Ontario's police watchdog.

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 him 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.

SIU investigators were only made aware of Theriault's then-alleged involvement in the beating four months later, after they were contacted by Falconer on April 27, 2017.

Ramer said that is when then-police chief Mark Saunders, as well as other TPS top brass, were made aware of the incident. Saunders officially retired from the force on July 31.

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

His brother Christian was acquitted of aggravated assault and obstruction of justice.

Theriault still employed by Toronto police

Despite his conviction, Michael Theriault remains employed by the Toronto Police Service, Ramer said. 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, he said.

The brothers' father, John Theriault, was a senior officer in the Toronto Police Service, who at the time was serving in the professional standards unit. The OIPRD launched an investigation into John Theriault in 2017. He has since retired.

Asked about the status of that probe, Ramer declined to comment, saying he did not know if it had been concluded yet.

In a statement released after the news conference, Toronto Mayor John Tory welcomed Ramer's public apology to Miller.

"The police service has acknowledged that trust has been broken between the police, Dafonte Miller and the broader community," Tory said.

He added that an updated policy on notifying the SIU is an "important step towards repairing trust, greater accountability and the reform that the police service and the police services board has committed to."

Interim chief lays out priorities

Ramer, a 40-year veteran of the Toronto police, was appointed to serve as interim chief in June.

Before taking on the role, he was the deputy chief of special operations. He oversaw the expansion of various initiatives to respond to people in mental health crisis, as well as leading the development of a gang-prevention strategy focused on "proactive engagement with young people." 

Ramer said his priorities as interim chief will include:

  • Implementing body-worn cameras by all front-line officers, which he hopes to have in place by the end of the year.
  • Working to better address calls for mental health service.
  • Supporting initiatives by the service's equity, inclusion and human rights unit.
  • A more progressive approach to traffic enforcement.

He has already said he does not plan to apply for the job of chief of police on a permanent basis.

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Lucas Powers

Senior Writer

Lucas Powers is a Toronto-based reporter and writer. He's reported for CBC News from across Canada. Have a story to tell? Email any time.

With files from Kari Vierimaa