Dafonte Miller slams Toronto police, suggests apology was 'public relations exercise'
Dafonte Miller arrives for his testimony at the Durham Region Courthouse in Oshawa, Ont., Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019. A Toronto police officer and his brother who are accused of brutally beating a young Black man more than three years ago are expected to learn their fate today. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston
Published Friday, August 7, 2020 1:31PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, August 7, 2020 1:41PM EDT
Dafonte Miller, a young Black man who lost an eye during an assault by an off-duty Toronto cop in December 2016, says receiving the Office of the Independent Police Review Director’s (OIPRD) report moments before the city’s new interim chief went public with an apology "came as a complete surprise” and “does nothing to build bridges.”
“They are simply making it worse for me and my family,” Miller said in a statement released by his lawyers on Friday morning.
Miller’s words of disappointment come one day after James Ramer held his first news conference since replacing Mark Saunders as Toronto’s top cop.
Saunders, who held the title of chief since April 2015 and was the first Black person to ever be appointed to the role, announced his retirement in early June. His final day on the job was July 31.
While promising “accountability and transparency” moving forward, Ramer said the Toronto Police Service “made the wrong decision” the night of the violent assault when it failed to immediately notify the province’s police watchdog, the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), of the matter.
Ramer’s apology came after the service was able to review the OIPRD’s finalized report.
After reviewing the report and acknowledging that the way the matter was handled broke trust between police and Toronto’s Black community, Ramer said the service will be implementing “new, more robust legislation regarding the reporting requirement for SIU matters.”
“We understand clearly now the legislation does not distinguish between on-duty and off-duty conduct and neither will we.”
According to Miller’s lawyer Julian Falconer, his client obtained the 12-page report “only minutes” before Ramer spoke publicly about it.
“For the first time yesterday, the Toronto Police Service finally acknowledged that they were wrong for not notifying the SIU of what Michael Theriault did to me,” Miller’s statement read.
Miller went on to say that “sincere apologies are important,” but noted that “public relations exercises are not.”
“I believe that true accountability comes from professionals owning up to their mistakes. I have never heard from former Chief Saunders. Until yesterday morning, minutes before he went public, I had never heard of Interim Chief Ramer,” he said.
Miller’s complaint with the OIPRD alleged that Saunders breached the Police Services Act by failing to notify the SIU of Theriault’s off-duty arrest and assault of Miller. The complaint also alleged that the failure to report was intended to shield Theriault from criminal charges.
According to Falconer, while the report found no evidence of misconduct on the part of Saunders, it did find that Saunders misapprehended his statutory obligation.
Falconer quotes the report saying: “The legislation requires a chief of police to notify the SIU in all cases where a police officer has been involved in an incident that results in serious injury; the legislation does not distinguish between on-duty and off-duty conduct. The discretion as to whether off-duty conduct ought to be investigated is within the exclusive purview of the SIU director.”
Falconer said the OIPRD report revealed that Saunders was “kept in the dark for five months about the brutal beating of Miller and indicated that he was not made aware of the incident until May 2, 2017, when the SIU advised that it was invoking its mandate.”
“Hear no evil, see no evil: that’s what it looks like,” he said. “It is beyond me how one of his officers, while off-duty, arrested and brutally assaulted a member of the public – which resulted in my client losing his eye and suffering facial fractures – and none of the officers or their superiors, who received the information that night, thought it would be appropriate to advise the chief of police.”
“This report simply confirms what we have suspected all along: that shenanigans were going on at different levels of the Toronto Police Service all aimed at keeping a lid on what was done to Dafonte Miller.”
Saunders has not publicly commented on the OIPRD report.
Theriault and his younger brother, Christian, were jointly charged with aggravated assault in connection with the violent altercation that took place in Whitby more than three years ago. During a virtual hearing held on June 26, Theriault was found guilty of the lesser charge of assault and his brother was acquitted.
Following his conviction, a sentencing hearing for Theriault is scheduled to take place on Sept. 25.
Miller’s lawyers have previously said the exact time for the hearing has not yet been confirmed and the judge’s decision will be released at a later date.
Both counsels are appealing Ontario Superior Court Justice Joseph Di Luca’s ruling in the case.
A civil lawsuit has also been launched by Falconer on behalf of Miller and his family.