‘Racialized context’ – Toronto cop gets nine months for beating Black teen till he lost an eye

Francis Akhalbey November 10, 2020
Michael Theriault was sentenced to nine months in jail for assaulting Dafonte Miller -- Photo: BBC|| The Globe and Mail

The Toronto police officer who was accused of brutally beating a Black teenager till he lost an eye in 2016, was sentenced to nine months in jail by an Ontario Superior Court judge on November 5.

According to CBC, Constable Michael Theriault was found guilty of assaulting Dafonte Miller – then a teenager – together with his brother during the December 2016 incident. The two attacked Miller with a pipe in an assault a witness described as “continuous” and left Miller with several injuries including a ruptured left eye. Besides jail time, Justice Joseph Di Luca also sentenced Theriault to 12 months of probation in addition to a weapons ban for a period of five years.

During the hearing, Di Luca said the trial deserved “nothing short of a jail sentence”, considering Theriault’s involvement in the assault as a law enforcement officer as well as the “racialized context” by which the victim was attacked.

“While the Crown does not allege the assault was racially motivated, the racialized context in which the offence took place cannot be ignored,” said Di Luca. “The offence committed in these circumstances undermines societal values of dignity and equality. It undermines the trust that the community — particularly the Black community — places on police officers. It must be denounced in the clearest terms.”

Responding to the sentence in a press conference, the lawyer for Miller, Julian Falconer, described it as “nothing short of historic.”

“They are groundbreaking in their clear and penetrating recognition of the social racial context that police encounters represent for victims in these kinds of cases,” Falconer said.

“Dafonte feels like he had a voice,” he continued, emphasizing that the sentence won’t, however, restore his client’s lost eye, CBC reported. “The net result of nine months in prison for Michael Theriault is not going to take away the deep distrust [Miller will] have for police for the rest of his life.”

Following the attack, Theriault and his brother, Christian, were charged with aggravated assault and obstruction of justice. Both brothers were, however, cleared of both charges but Theriault was found guilty of a lighter assault charge.

During the trial, prosecutors said Miller sustained a string of injuries after the brothers attacked him with a pipe. Theriault’s defense, however, argued they acted in self-defense as Miller rather approached them with a pipe after they confronted him and his friend for stealing from a truck belonging to their family, CBC reported.

Di Luca said that though it could have been a case of self-defense, the attack still persisted even when the accused was retreating. “This is not a case where in the course of self-defence, an accused simply went too far,” he said. “This is a case where after any reasonable, possible threat had abated, the accused armed himself with a weapon and struck the injured and retreating victim.”

Theriault, who was initially placed on suspension with pay, will now be on suspension without pay following the jail verdict. He will also appear before the Toronto Police Service for a disciplinary hearing. He was, however, released on bond pending an appeal.

Following Theriault’s guilty verdict back in June, Miller expressed his satisfaction, though people argued the accused should have rather faced the harsher aggravated assault and obstruction of justice charges.

“A lot of my brothers and sisters are going through similar situations as me and a lot of my people are dying and a lot of officers are walking. So I don’t feel like I took a loss – I feel like we took a step forward,” Miller said.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: November 10, 2020


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