Toronto cop resigns from force over conviction in 2016 assault of Dafonte Miller

Michael Theriault, the Toronto police officer convicted in the high-profile off-duty assault of young Black man Dafonte Miller, has resigned from the Toronto police.

Announced Tuesday at a Toronto police tribunal, Theriault’s departure closes a saga that began more than five years ago on a cold December morning, when Theriault assaulted Miller after chasing him down a quiet Whitby street.

The violent clash — provoked after Theriault caught Miller stealing change from his parents’ truck, a judge found — left Miller blinded in one eye.

Convicted of assault in June 2020, Theriault was sentenced to nine months in jail by Ontario Court Justice Joseph Di Luca, whose sentencing decision was hailed as “groundbreaking” for factoring in the racial dynamics of a white police officer assault a young Black man. Assaults like the one on Miller, Di Luca wrote, “shatter a community’s trust in the system.”

Despite the criminal conviction, Theriault has remained an employee of the Toronto police as the case proceeded through the courts — and even after he served jail time. The officer was suspended with pay right up until the point he was sentenced to jail time in November 2020. He has been suspended without pay since then.

His employment ended last month, as he faced professional misconduct allegations under the Ontario Police Services Act — and the near certainty of dismissal. Police prosecutor Alexandra Ciobotaru withdrew misconduct allegations against the former officer at a brief Toronto police tribunal hearing Tuesday, saying Theriault’s last day was April 19.

“As a result of the officer resigning, this tribunal no longer has jurisdiction to proceed with the prosecutions,” Ciobotaru said.

In an interview Tuesday, Julian Falconer, the lawyer who represents Miller, said Theriault’s resignation is the latest example of a “pattern of ducking accountability” in the case.

Despite independent findings that Toronto police made errors in their handling of the incident — including neglecting to contact Ontario’s police watchdog, the Special Investigations Unit, the probe Miller’s injuries — no police officer has been disciplined in connection to the case. Former Insp. Ed Boyd, found to have erred by an external investigation by Waterloo Regional Police, retired by the time the force completed it review.

“It’s painfully obvious that the police disciplinary is utterly useless when it comes to holding officers to account in this case,” Falconer said.

Michael Lacy, Theriault’s lawyer, said the outcome was the “obvious” result of being convicted then exhausing his avenues of appeal.

“The obvious consequence of being found guilty of that criminal offence, and receiving the sentence that he did, is he no longer has the privilege of being a police officer,” Lacy said Tuesday.

“He accepts, as he must, that consequence.”

Already a prominent case, the Theriault trial drew international attention in June 2020, when Di Luca found Theriault guilty of assaulting Miller in a Dec. 2016 incident that devolved into a “one-sided beatdown.” The decision was broadcast on YouTube due to the COVID-19, and watched by thousands.

In July 2021, the Ontario Court of Appeal upheld Theriault’s conviction and Di Luca’s reasons for sentence, ruling that systemic anti-Black racism can — and should — be a sentencing factor considered by judges, something Theriault’s lawyers had challenged.

“Michael (Theriault)’s actions as a white off-duty police officer who assaulted a retreating, injured Black youth, cannot, and should not, be divorced from this wider context,” wrote Ontario Court of Appeal Justice Michael Tulloch in a 78-page decision.

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

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