On Thursday, Nov. 5, the Toronto police officer who assaulted a Black teen while off-duty in 2016 was sentenced to jail by the Ontario Superior Court.
Const. Michael Theriault was sentenced to nine months in jail by Ontario Superior Court Justice Joseph Di Luca for assaulting Dafonte Miller while off-duty in December 2016. Miller was 19 at the time
Di Luca said Theriault’s “training and position” as a police officer made his offense more serious.
There are conflicting accounts of the events that led to the beating that night. One of Miller’s friends Bradley Goode, told the court that he, Miller, and a mutual friend named Antonio Jack, were stealing items from cars on the night in question.
Theriault’s defense said the officer, and his brother Christian Theriault, were trying to arrest Miller after catching him stealing from the family truck.
But Jack told the court he, Miller and Goode were walking down the street when Miller rasied his voice as if he were in an argument.
“Two or three white males came out of a garage and they started chasing us,” Jack testified.
Ultimately, Miller was beaten by Theriault so severely that his eye ruptured and had to be removed. He was beaten by a three-foot-long metal pipe found at the scene, but a pathologist said the eye injury was likely caused by a punch. His eye had to be removed. Miller was handcuffed as he lay on the ground after being pinned down by one of the brothers.
Di Luca said he could not definitively say that the brothers were not acting in self-defense at some point during the altercation, but stated that when Michael Theriault beat a retreating Miller with a pipe, it constituted assault.
“These are offences that shatter a community’s trust in the system,” he said. “They serve as a constant reminder of the presence of systemic racism. They prevent the healing that is required to move forward because they demonstrate that true equality is not yet within reach.”
The Theriault brothers were charged with aggravated assault and obstruction of justice, but were acquitted on those charges. The aggravated assault charges could not stand since self-defense couldn’t be ruled out. In June, Michael Theriault was convicted of the lesser crime of assault, and Christian was acquitted on all charges.
Di Luca said the brothers likely intended to administer “street justice” on Miller. Christian Theriault can be heard saying “You picked the wrong cars,” during the call he made to 911 after beating the teen.
Miller was originally charged with assault, possession of a weapon, theft and weed possession. The charges were later dropped.
In addition to the nine month sentence, Theriault will also face 12 months of probation following the jail term, along with a five-year weapons prohibition.
He was released on bail Thursday, pending an appeal.
“Since the assault, I have become withdrawn and have isolated myself from my friends and family,” Mr. Miller wrote in his victim-impact statement, read in court in September. “The assault has robbed me of the simple joys of life. I have not been able to gain meaningful employment or go back to school.”
Theriault has been suspended with pay since his arrest, but the department announced Thursday that he will now be suspended without pay. Theriault remains free on bond as he awaits his appeal outcome.