It’s not just Americans that are having trust issues with their police.
Back in December 2016, 19-year-old Dafonte Miller and two of his friends were walking to the house of another friend in Whitby, a city just outside Toronto. According to the Millers’ family lawyer, Constable Michael Theriault was in the garage of his family’s home when Miller and his friends passed by. Theriault, who was off-duty at the time, identified himself as a police officer and asked the young men where they lived and what they were doing in the neighborhood. When Miller and his friends continued walking, Theriault and his brother- a civilian- chased them. While his friends managed to get away, Miller was allegedly punched, kicked and struck in the face repeatedly with a metal pipe. When Miller called 911 during the beating for help, Theriault took the phone and said he was a police officer making an arrest.
Julian Falconer, the Millers’ lawyer, claims that when local police arrived at the scene, Theriault told them Miller had been the one beating him with a metal pipe. As such, Miller was arrested but taken to the hospital and “diagnosed with serious injuries.” Reports state that Miller suffered a broken nose, broken orbital bone, fractured right wrist and an eye so badly damaged, doctors are planning to remove it.
Court documents reveal that the original report filed had Miller being charged with possession of a weapon, two counts of assault with a weapon, theft under $5,000 and possession of marijuana. However, the report did not make clear how Miller supposedly obtained the cash or that connection to the Theriault brothers. All charges against Miller were dropped in May, without a trial, at the request of the Crown attorney.
“Dafonte wasn’t doing anything wrong,” Falconer said. “There was no basis for this individual to be in any way confronted by the off-duty officer.”
It gets worse though. Not only does it appear Miller had been unnecessarily beaten, but the Special Investigations Unit (SIU)- in charge of probing police misconduct- had no idea this incident occurred until the victim’s lawyer contacted them four months after it took place. Coincidentally, that was one month before the charges against Miller were dropped.
Under Ontario’s Police Services Act, which regulates law enforcement in the province, a chief of police must “notify the SIU immediately of an incident involving one or more of his or her police officers that may reasonably be considered to fall within the investigative mandate of the SIU.” The SIU says it “will not normally investigate off-duty police officers acting in the course of their private lives,” but an investigation will be conducted if an off-duty police officer identifies themselves as a member of the police during an incident, or any police equipment is involved.
Although Durham police (the police force for Whitby) claim they contacted Toronto police to inform them of the incident involving Theriault, former SIU director Howard Morton says the responsibility to contact the SIU should lie with whichever police force is first notified of an incident.
“They might decide to contact the police service that the officer is a member of, to have them contact the SIU, but I was always of the view that, because (police) have to contact us right away, then it’s whatever police service is (initially) notified,” Morton added.
But another twist to the story has come to light. John Theriault, father of Constable Mike Theriault and his brother Christian, is a 30-year veteran detective of the Toronto police force and currently works in the force’s Professional Standards Unit. This division is the unit responsible for calling the SIU. Falconer expressed some arguably justified surprise at this.
“My number one concern that has been conspicuous by its total silence is: What role did the father of the two brothers play?” Falconer told CBC Toronto. “I would like to know what communications, if any, that John Theriault had with Durham Regional Police--did he contact them that night, or the day after, or the day after that in relation to the investigation?”
Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders has repeatedly defended his service’s decision not to contact the SIU. Saunders told reporters that members of his professional standards unit decided, based on the information they had at the time, that Theriault’s case did not meet the standards for contacting SIU. Presumably to tamper growing public outrage, Saunders announced that he was bringing in the police force from the city of Waterloo to conduct a third-party investigation.
But the damage has been done. Saunders and Mayor John Tory have been fending off rumors of a police cover-up. Their pleas for trust from the public has almost reached an insulting level at this point. Even Morton seems to believe Miller’s case has spiraled out of control: “I don’t think this will be a true investigation,” he said. “Even if it is, the public’s perception will be that it is not.” Every story has multiple sides, and I acknowledge that the narrative has been decidedly one-sided thus far, but it’s going to take some serious truth bombs with irrefutable evidence before I start trusting anything the police say about this case.
Everything involving Miller just reeks. Although the SIU arrested the Theriault brothers two weeks ago and charged them with aggravated assault, assault with a weapon and public mischief, we continue to see special exceptions being made for these two men. Bail conditions with the charges were dramatically reduced, allowing the brothers to consume alcohol, leave their homes at night and even leave the province of Ontario while awaiting trial.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the constant accusations of racism that have arisen in this case. Truthfully though, although race may have played a factor in the initial incident, it doesn’t outrage me as much as every single step taken since that fateful December night. Yes, racial profiling probably played a role in the Theriaults’ decision to chase down Miller and beat him. I mean, people don’t refer to Whitby as “White-by” for no reason. Being black and walking down the street is by no means a justified reason for being questioned by police, or anyone for that matter, but I’ve been so jaded lately I’ve almost come to expect stories of racial profiling. That’s a bigger issue that needs to be addressed on an institutional level. My anger is the apparent police cover-up of the incident. Without media attention, would this incident have ever come to light? Would the SIU have ever investigated and charged the Theriault brothers? Where is the accountability? And most importantly: all this begs the most important question: what other shit have they been covering up?