Toronto police failed to notify the SIU about the beating of Dafonte Miller, external review finds

·4 min read
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 - image credit)
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 - image credit)

Toronto police "failed" to follow procedure by not notifying the province's police watchdog about the beating of a young Black man by off-duty constable Michael Theriault in December 2016, an external review has found — but the inspector responsible for the decision has since retired and therefore won't face any discipline.

The 11-page report by Waterloo Regional Police comes four years after then-Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders announced the force would launch an investigation into the handling of the assault of 19-year-old Dafonte Miller in Whitby, Ont.

In a statement reacting to the news, Miller questioned why the report, dated Oct. 9, 2020, is only coming to light a year later.

"The Toronto Police Service has stressed the importance of transparency in their review of my matter, but my family and I are at a loss as to why they are only transparent with us right before they make something public," he said.

"This is not an effective way to build bridges with my family and the Black community."

Theriault had 'engaged his oath': report

The Waterloo police report notes the decision by Toronto police not to notify the SIU rested largely on the fact that Michael Theriault denied identifying himself as a police officer during the incident.

Nevertheless, it concludes: "An off-duty police officer remains a peace officer and although there was no information that Michael Theriault told Mr. Miller he was a police officer at the time of this incident, he had to have been viewed as having otherwise engaged his oath of office by making an arrest."

Cole Burston/Canadian Press
Cole Burston/Canadian Press

"If the officer exercises any of those powers, they do so as a police officer, and arguably put themselves on-duty, as well," it continues.

Theriault was ultimately convicted of assault and sentenced to nine months behind bars, but acquitted along with his brother of additional charges of aggravated assault and obstruction of justice. Ontario's highest court upheld his conviction earlier this year.

Prosecutors alleged Theriault and his brother cornered Miller in the early hours of the morning and beat him with a metal pipe, rupturing his eye, among other injuries, after they said they caught him stealing from their family truck.

The case spurred multiple protests against anti-Black racism and police discrimination.

Toronto police seeking Theriault's termination

The decision not to notify the Special Investigations Unit was made by Insp. Edward Boyd, the chief's SIU liaison officer at the time, together with Insp. Peter Moreira, the Waterloo police report notes.

But in his response to the report, Toronto's now-police chief James Ramer wrote that Moreira was Boyd's subordinate and therefore "no discipline was commenced" against him. Boyd, for his part, has now retired and, according to Ramer, "no longer governed by" the Police Service Act.

Last August, Ramer apologized to Miller and his family and confirmed police made the wrong decision not to contact the SIU.

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

In response to the Waterloo police report's recommendations, Ramer said "important changes to Service Procedures have been identified by this investigation, which will bring clarity and consistency to the notification of the SIU in the future."

Those include updating their procedures to indicate that off-duty events may be subject to an SIU investigation as well as providing training to staff involved in the reporting processes on those changes.

The Waterloo police report also looked at allegations of "improper" influence by Michael Theriault's father, John Theriault — at the time a Toronto police officer working in the force's professional standards unit.

The report found "no information in this regard," adding that while John Theriault was present at the scene of the incident, there was nothing to indicate that he provided "any undue influence in this matter or became involved in this matter, or was involved in any decision regarding the notification of the SIU."

As for Michael Theriaut, Ramer's report says he has been served with a notice of hearing under the Police Services Act, and that the police service is seeking his termination.

Theriault's lawyer told CBC News he has filed an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada and it will now be for the court to decide whether to hear the appeal.

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, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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