Toronto Police Officer and Brother, Accused of Beating Young Black Man Dafonte Miller, Face Verdict on Friday
Dakshana Bascaramurty, The Globe and Mail, June 25, 2020
The highly anticipated verdict in the case of an off-duty police officer and his brother who allegedly beat a young Black man and later misled investigators about it will be delivered via livestream Friday – against the backdrop of a month of global protests denouncing anti-Black racism and police brutality.
Toronto Police Service Constable Michael Theriault and his brother, Christian Theriault, are accused of aggravated assault and obstruction of justice resulting from a 2016 encounter on a Whitby, Ont., street with a then-teenaged Dafonte Miller, who was beaten so badly he lost an eye.
During the two-week judge-only trial last year, Justice Joseph Di Luca of the Ontario Superior Court was presented with two competing narratives of what happened on the morning the Theriaults crossed paths with Mr. Miller.
Here is some of the evidence Justice Di Luca must consider as he decides which version of events most likely occurred and, ultimately, if the accused are guilty.
How did Dafonte Miller cross paths with Michael and Christian Theriault?
On the frigid morning of Dec. 28, 2016, Michael and Christian Theriault were at their home on a residential street in Whitby when Mr. Miller and two friends walked down the street.
Mr. Miller testified in court that he and his friends were walking through the neighbourhood, on their way to meet some girls, when they passed by the Theriaults, who were standing on the street. The Theriaults, he said, demanded to know where they were going. As the three friends tried to walk past them, the Theriaults gave chase, Mr. Miller said.
Michael Theriault, meanwhile, told police at the scene that he and his brother were in their garage smoking when they heard what sounded like someone opening the doors to their parents’ pickup truck, which was parked in the driveway. He said they exited the garage to see Mr. Miller and another man stepping out of the truck (in their version of events, there was no mention of a third man).
How did the chase and struggle play out?
By both the Crown’s and defence’s accounts, the Theriaults ran after Mr. Miller down the street, and Mr. Miller veered into the space between two houses.
According to Mr. Miller, who took the witness stand, Christian Theriault grabbed him, put him in a headlock and pulled him to the ground. He told the court both brothers hit him and Michael Theriault struck him with a metal pipe.
In a statement Christian Theriault gave police, he said Mr. Miller tried to jump over a fence and then began swinging a metal pipe at both brothers, striking them repeatedly.
Where did the pipe come from?
A four-foot metal pipe stained with blood was found on a snow-covered lawn by police who attended the scene.
When he took the stand, Mr. Miller said he only noticed the pipe after he had been struck in the back with it by Michael Theriault. He said he did not bring it with him to the scene and never held it. In final submissions, the Crown told the judge the most likely origin of the pipe was the Theriaults’ garage, where Michael Theriault probably grabbed it with the intent to use it as a weapon when going out to confront Mr. Miller and his friends.
Almost two weeks after the altercation, Christian Theriault provided a video statement to police stating that when he, his brother and Mr. Miller were between the two houses, his brother indicated that Mr. Miller had a bat, at which point Mr. Miller began swinging the metal pipe at him. In that interview, he rejected the suggestion that it could have come from his house. The defence suggested to the court that Mr. Miller had likely found the pipe in the garden beside the space where he and the Theriaults fought and used it as a weapon against the brothers, who both deny ever striking Mr. Miller with it.
What happened at the neighbour’s front door?
Much of the violent interaction between the Theriaults and Mr. Miller occurred between two houses, one of them the home of Byron James Silverthorn, who was called as a witness.
He said he woke up to the sounds of a struggle outside and from the window saw two individuals repeatedly punching another at the side of his house. Then a man banged on his front door, screaming that he call 911. The 911 call from Mr. Silverthorn, describing what he witnessed, was submitted as evidence.
The Crown alleges Mr. Miller, having been beaten with the pipe, briefly escaped from the Theriaults and ran to the Silverthorns’ front door to seek help. While he was pounding on the door, the Crown says, Michael Theriault struck Mr. Miller on the side of the face with the pipe, causing his eye to burst. Later, as Mr. Miller and Mr. Silverthorn testified, Michael Theriault held Mr. Miller down with the pipe on Mr. Silverthorn’s driveway.
In his testimony in court, Michael Theriault said Mr. Miller used the pipe to beat him and his brother until he was eventually able to disarm him. Mr. Miller, he said, did walk up to the Silverthorns’ door and bang on it, while he, Michael Theriault, yelled that he wanted the occupants of the house to call 911. He said he never struck Mr. Miller with the pipe but held onto it so Mr. Miller could not arm himself with it again. Mr. Miller’s injuries, he testified, were a result of punching him repeatedly in self-defence.
What injuries were suffered by the parties?
Before he was transported from the crime scene to a nearby hospital, police photographed Mr. Miller’s face, which was covered in blood and what appears to be tissue. Michael Pickup, a forensic pathologist, testified for the Crown that Mr. Miller suffered multiple injuries: a ruptured left eye that required multiple surgeries and the eventual use of a prosthetic, a fractured left orbital bone, an eyelid injury, a fractured nose, lacerations to his forehead and above his eye, and a fractured wrist.
The defence says Michael Theriault suffered no injuries and Christian Theriault suffered a concussion and leg bruise as a result of being hit by Mr. Miller with the pipe, though no medical evidence was submitted to support this. On the 911 call that morning, Christian Theriault told a dispatcher, “We’re all … bloody right now.” A photo taken by police at the scene shows a small cut on Christian Theriault’s hand.
What happened at the end, as Dafonte Miller was restrained?
Mr. Miller testified that after he was struck in the face with the pipe, he tried to make it to another house to call for help but collapsed in the Silverthorns’ driveway. He tried to call 911 on his cellphone but said Michael Theriault climbed on his back, took the phone and spoke to the dispatcher. In the call, Michael Theriault tells Mr. Miller, “Dude, you’re under arrest.” Mr. Miller later tells him, “Bro, you got the wrong guy.”
While his brother held down Mr. Miller, Christian Theriault also called 911 and told the dispatcher that he and his brother had caught Mr. Miller breaking into their car and were holding him. At one point during the call he tells Mr. Miller, “You [messing] in our cars … ? You picked the wrong cars.”