Toronto cop convicted of assault in beating of Dafonte Miller; brother acquitted

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A Toronto police officer has been found guilty of assault in the beating of a young Black man more than three years ago, but his brother has been acquitted.

Const. Michael Theriault and his brother Christian have also both been acquitted of obstruction of justice.

The Theriaults had pleaded not guilty to aggravated assault and obstruction of justice in relation to the Dec. 28, 2016, incident and its aftermath.

The judge-alone trial has heard Michael Theriault was off duty at the time, and Ontario Superior Court Justice Joseph Di Luca delivered his verdict today by videoconference.

Prosecutors alleged the brothers chased Dafonte Miller in the early hours of the morning, cornering the then-19-year-old between two homes in Whitby, Ont. and beating him so badly with a pipe that his left eye burst.

Defence lawyers argued the brothers caught Miller and his friends breaking into a vehicle and acted out of self-defence, alleging Miller was the one wielding a pipe.

In reading his decision Friday, Di Luca said he was mindful of the social context surrounding the case.

The case, and others like it, “raise significant issues involving race and policing that should be further examined,” Di Luca said.

But the judge said his task was not to conduct a public inquiry on race and policing, or to deliver the verdict sought by the public _ it was to determine the case based on the evidence.

Defence lawyers argued at trial that the brothers caught Miller and his friends breaking into a vehicle and acted out of self-defence, alleging Miller was the one wielding a pipe.

In their closing statements, lawyers for the Theriaults argued that Miller lied on the stand when he denied breaking into cars that night and, as a result, his testimony was tainted.

Prosecutors, however, said the brothers were not justified in chasing the young man and grievously injuring him, regardless of whether he was breaking into cars at the time.

They also argued that if Miller did, in fact, lie about the events leading up to the encounter, that would be understandable given that he was the one handcuffed and arrested that night even as he lay bleeding on the ground.

Miller, now 22, testified before the judge-alone trial last fall, and denied stealing from cars that night.

He told the court he was out walking with two friends when the Theriaults started questioning them about why they were in the area. He said the brothers began chasing him when he and his friends walked away.

Miller said he didn’t have a chance to fight back, and only recalled seeing Michael Theriault with the pipe.

His lawyers have alleged outside court that race played a role in the attack.

The case has also spurred protests by members of Black Lives Matter and other anti-racism activists, and a rally was planned outside the Oshawa, Ont., courthouse Friday morning even though the hearing did not take place there.

Michael Theriault, who testified last, admitted to hitting Miller but said he only did so with his fists.

He said he was acting out of self-defence after Miller attacked him and his brother with a metal pipe or pole.

Theriault told the court they had caught Miller and another young man stealing items from a truck belonging to the Theriaults’ parents and chased him to an area between two homes.

Theriault also said he never identified himself as a police officer, though he was later heard on a 911 call telling Miller that he was under arrest.

Christian Theriault did not take the stand.

The decision was initially scheduled for April but was postponed in light of public health measures that dramatically reduced court operations.

Friday’s hearing drew significant public attention, with thousands of viewers observing the live stream at various times.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on June 26, 2020.

By Paola Loriggio

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