‘We made the wrong decision that night’: New interim Toronto police chief apologizes for not calling SIU over Dafonte Miller beating

“We made the wrong decision that night.”

In his first press conference as the interim Toronto police chief, James Ramer formally apologized on behalf of the Toronto police for failing to call Ontario’s police watchdog on the night Black teen Dafonte Miller was assaulted by off-duty Toronto police officer Michael Theriault.

“As we have so many times before, we used the information available to us that evening to determine whether we should report to the Special Investigations Unit (SIU). We made the wrong decision that night,” Ramer told a news conference Thursday.

“As a result of that decision, trust has been broken between the police, Dafonte Miller and the broader community. For that, on behalf of the Toronto police service, I want to apologize.”

Ramer told reporters that a report by the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) had been completed and on Thursday provided to the Toronto police board and to Miller. While Ramer said he could not release the report or provide details about its findings, he said it focused on a police service’s duty to report to the SIU.

In his first press conference as the interim Toronto police chief, James Ramer formally apologized on behalf of the police for failing to call the SIU on the night Black teen Dafonte Miller was assaulted by off-duty Toronto police officer Michael Theriault.

It found that on the night in question, Toronto police were notified of the actions Theriault while he was off duty. Neither the Toronto police nor Durham Regional Police — who were summoned to the scene of the assault in Ajax — contacted the SIU.

Instead, it was Miller who was initially arrested and charged in connection to his own assault.

Theriault, who is suspended with pay from the Toronto police service, was convicted in June of assaulting Miller on a residential Whitby street in December 2016. The assault left Miller with serious injuries to his eye, which later had to be surgically removed.

Miller’s lawyer, Julian Falconer, has alleged that the SIU were not notified by either police service on the night of the incident as part of a “deliberate and intentional effort on the part of police authorities to conceal a crime by one of their own.”

Ramer said moving forward, the Toronto police service will notify the SIU about any serious injury involving a civilian and a police officer, regardless of whether the officer was off duty or not.

“We are revising our procedures in this area,” he said.

The Durham Regional Police announced a similar change in policy in 2017.

In a statement, the Toronto police board said Ramer “vows to strengthen the process of notification,” including in all cases where a police officer has been involved in an incident that results in serious injury.

“We echo the apology that has been made to Mr. Miller and to the community at large, and we stand behind Chief Ramer and the Service in committing ourselves to this work,” said the board in a statement.

Mayor John Tory called Ramer’s commitment to ensuring the SIU is called whether an officer is on or off duty “an important step towards repairing trust, greater accountability and the reform that the police service and the police services board has committed to.”

“We know that further action is needed and I know interim chief Ramer is committed to working with the Police Services Board and Council on important efforts to continue to modernize the service,” Tory said in a statement.

Michael Theriault was initially charged with aggravated assault alongside his young brother, Christian Theriault. Both brothers were found not guilty of the more serious charge of aggravated assault while Michael Theriault was convicted of assaulting Miller. The brothers were also found not guilty of attempting to obstruct justice in the case.

A sentencing hearing for Theriault is scheduled to be held next month.

The Theriault brothers’ father, John Theriault, is a former Toronto police officer who was working in the Toronto police professional standards unit at the time of the assault — the unit that handles officer misconduct including incidents involving the SIU.

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In a written complaint to the OIPRD in 2017, Falconer alleged that John Theriault “repeatedly contacted (Durham police) investigators to gain information relating to the status of the investigation.”

Ramer would not comment on John Theriault’s role when asked Thursday, citing ongoing investigations, but revealed that on the night of the assault neither he nor then-Chief Mark Saunders were informed of the incident.

In addition to the OIPRD, the Waterloo Regional Police are also conducting an external review of Toronto police’s handling of Miller assault, which will focus on why the SIU was not called. The review is being conducted by experienced senior officers, and its findings will be presented to the Toronto police board.

A spokesperson for the OIPRD confirmed Thursday that one of three investigations it has launched into Miller’s assault has been completed and provided to the Toronto police board. Citing confidentiality provisions with Ontario’s Police Services Act, the OIPRD said it cannot provide a copy of the report or provide any further details.

Wendy Gillis

Wendy Gillis is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and policing for the Star. Reach her by email at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter: @wendygillis

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