Toronto officer guilty of assault after blinding black man

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An off-duty Toronto police officer was convicted of assault after blinding a black man in an attack with a metal pipe four years ago.

Dafonte Miller, 19, was chased and attacked by Officer Michael Theriault and his brother Christian.

The fight ended with Mr. Miller seriously injured and handcuffed.

The victim, whose injuries were so severe that he had to have his left eye removed, said the officer should have been convicted of a more serious charge.

On Friday, Michael Theriault was convicted of assault, a misdemeanor than his initial charge of aggravated assault. His brother Christian was found not guilty of aggravated assault.

Both brothers were also found not guilty of trying to obstruct justice.

Shouts of “Shame!” It could be heard outside the courthouse, where the verdict was delivered over a loudspeaker to a crowd of Miller’s supporters.

“While I am disappointed that Michael and Christian Theriault have not been convicted on all charges, I am grateful that Judge Di Luca has found Michael Theriault guilty of assaulting me,” Miller said at a press conference after the verdict.

He and his lawyer, Julian Falconer, request a broader investigation into police responsibility and why local authorities had to report the incident to the police watchdog, the Special Investigations Unit, which is supposed to investigate the incidents in the ones that the police hurt civilians. Or outside

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The four-hour ruling aired on YouTube, where it had more than 20,000 views.

Ontario Superior Court Judge Joseph Di Luca said he was aware of the high profile of the case but could not allow that to influence his verdict.

“I want to make one thing very clear: I am not saying that race has nothing to do with this case. In fact, I am aware of the need to carefully consider the racialized context from which this case arises,” he said.

What happened to Dafonte Miller?

Michael Theriault, then 24, saw Miller and his friends climb into their truck parked outside their parents’ home in Oshawa, Ontario on December 28, 2016.

The court heard Michael run off in late December wearing only his socks, chasing Miller in one direction, while his brother Christian, 21, chased another young man in another direction.

Miller has repeatedly denied the allegations, although Judge Di Luca considered his innocence “not credible.”

All charges related to the alleged car jump, involving minor thefts of unlocked vehicles, have been dropped.

Michael Theriault says that he persecuted Mr. Miller because he wanted to detain and arrest him, but by his own admission, at no time during the persecution did he identify himself as a police officer or tell Mr. Miller that he was under arrest.

Judge Di Luca said during his ruling: “To be frank, I would have expected that the first thing that would come out of Michael Theriault’s mouth while chasing Mr. Miller while wearing only socks would have been: ‘Stop, you’re under arrest. I’m an officer of cop.'”

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Michael Theriault (left) and his brother Christian

More likely, Judge Di Luca said, the Theriaults wanted to administer “street justice” and had little intention of making an arrest.

In a 911 call made by Christian Theriault after beating Mr. Miller, the younger brother can be heard saying, “You picked the wrong cars.”

After catching up with Mr. Miller, the two fought, and Christian finally joined the fray. It was then that the fight became a “one-sided” fight, according to the judge.

Miller says Michael and Christian beat, kicked and hit him with an object that was likely a 4-foot (1.3m) metal pipe found at the scene.

An expert pathologist says it was probably a punch, and not the pipe, that blinded him.

Bleeding, Mr. Miller called a neighbor’s buzzer and asked them to call 911. It was then that Michael Theriault hit Mr. Miller in the face with a pipe, according to the court.

When the police arrived, Mr. Miller was pinned to the ground, with Michael Theriault’s knee on his back. Officers gave Michael Theriault handcuffs to hold Miller.

What is the distinction between assault and aggravated assault?

In Canadian law, aggravated assault is an assault that “injures, mutilates, disfigures, or endangers the life of the plaintiff.”

Judge Di Luca said that because it was unclear who had the pipe during the fight where Mr. Miller was blinded, he cannot say without reasonable doubt that the two brothers did not act in self-defense.

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Miller denies hitting anyone with the pipe. DNA evidence shows only her blood in the pipe. Michael had no significant injuries, and Christian suffered a mild concussion.

“At that stage, they were probably just beating Mr. Miller. However, probability is not the evidence for a criminal case,” the judge said.

The judge found that this “razor-thin” justification for self-defense evaporated when Michael Theriault hit Mr. Miller after asking the neighbor to call 911.

As for why he acquitted the brothers, who did not mention the pipeline to the police, for obstruction of justice, Judge Di Luca said that although he was “concerned” about his omissions, the trauma of the situation could have affected his memory.

He also said that in giving additional testimony to the police two weeks after the incident, the police did not directly ask Christian Theriault if he or his brother ever hit Mr. Miller with the pipe.

At that time, the police were still investigating Mr. Miller as a suspect.

What happens next?

Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders said his “heart goes out” with Miller and his family.

In 2017, he asked Waterloo police to investigate the circumstances surrounding the assault and why neither Oshawa nor Toronto police reported Mr. Miller’s injuries to the SIU immediately.

That investigation was halted during the criminal process, but can be resumed, he says.

Michael Theriault, who is currently suspended on pay, will also face a professional disciplinary board.

The Toronto Police Association, the union that represents police officers, declined to comment since Michael Theriault has yet to be sentenced.

He will return to court on July 15 to determine future plans for his sentencing hearing. He remains on bail.

The verdict has fueled calls to remove the police. The Toronto city council is currently debating a 10% budget cut to the police. The measure does not have the backing of the city’s mayor, John Tory, who is proposing a series of reforms.

As for Mr. Miller, who uses a prosthetic eye and still suffers from chronic pain due to his injuries, the verdict may be disappointing, but it is not the end.

“I don’t feel like I’ve lost anything. I feel like there’s a long way to go and we’ve just taken a step forward,” he said.