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Sentencing today for Toronto police officer who assaulted Dafonte Miller

A Toronto police officer convicted of assault in the brutal beating of a young Black man is expected to learn his sentence today.

Prosecutors are seeking a jail term of 12 to 15 months and several other restrictions for Const. Michael Theriault, who was off duty during the confrontation with Dafonte Miller more than three years ago.

Defence lawyers, however, are asking for an absolute discharge or suspended sentence.

They argue Theriault’s crime was not racially motivated and his sentence shouldn’t be seen as a mechanism to address the broader issue of systemic racism in policing.

Theriault and his brother, Christian, were charged with aggravated assault and obstruction of justice in connection with the December 2016 incident in Whitby, Ont.

Prosecutors alleged during trial that the brothers beat Miller, who was 19 at the time, with a metal pipe, leaving him with a ruptured eye and other injuries.

The defence presented a different account, saying the Theriault brothers wanted to arrest Miller after catching him and his friends stealing from the family truck.

They alleged the pair feared for their lives after Miller confronted them with a pipe and acted in self-defence.

In delivering his verdict in June, Ontario Superior Court Justice Joseph Di Luca said he couldn’t rule out the possibility that self-defence played a role in the early portion of the incident.

It was during that part of the encounter that Miller sustained the eye injury that warranted the aggravated assault charge, the judge said.

But Di Luca said he didn’t buy the self-defence argument regarding Theriault’s actions shortly afterwards, when the officer grabbed a pipe and hit a retreating Miller in the head.

As a result, Theriault was cleared of aggravated assault but convicted of the lesser charge of assault.

He was also found not guilty on the obstruction of justice charge, while his brother was acquitted of all charges.

Miller laid out the lasting impact the incident has had on his life in a statement that prosecutors read to the court in September.

In it, he said the encounter permanently altered his view of police, adding he had never previously experienced an abuse of power to that degree.

“No one questioned him. Only I was worthy of suspicion … Because of the colour of my skin, Michael Theriault could have got away with what he did to me,” the statement said.

Miller has said he would like Theriault to spend time behind bars, stressing the guilty verdict is only a step in holding the officer accountable for his actions.

Theriault, meanwhile, told the court he has been publicly demonized and called a racist, which he said does not reflect who he is. The officer said he never intended to seriously hurt Miller.

Defence lawyers have argued Theriault had no previous disciplinary issues before the incident, and said he could face “employment consequences” including the loss of his job if forced to serve jail time.

Theriault has been suspended with pay but would be suspended without pay if jailed. He also faces a disciplinary hearing with the force.

The Crown has appealed the verdict, alleging the judge made errors in his analysis on the self-defence argument.

Defence lawyers sought earlier to have the verdict vacated but Di Luca said the issue would be better left to the appeal court.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 5, 2020.

Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press

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