Dafonte Miller pounded on the door of a home in Whitby, Ont., trying to escape a beating when he was struck twice in the face with a pipe – the moment in a December, 2016, attack that left him blind in his left eye.
“Are you going to kill me?” he recalled asking the man wielding the pipe, alleged to be off-duty Toronto police officer Michael Theriault.
Mr. Miller, a 19-year-old black man, testified while wearing a prosthetic – after the attack, his eye “burst,” he said, and was surgically removed.
His highly anticipated testimony began Wednesday morning in the trial of Michael Theriault and Christian Theriault, his brother, who are accused of aggravated assault and obstruction of justice. Since Mr. Miller’s attack came to light, the case has sparked discussions about violent interactions between police and the black population.
For two months after his beating, Mr. Miller slept in the same bed as his mother so she could mop up the blood and fluid that leaked out of his eye wound throughout the night, he told a packed courtroom at the Superior Court of Justice in Oshawa. The judge-only trial is being heard by Justice Joseph Di Luca.
Mr. Miller testified that the day of his attack, he and two friends set out to meet three women in the early morning hours. They briefly detoured to another friend’s place to smoke cannabis and then continued on their way. While walking down one residential street, they encountered two men standing in a driveway.
According to Mr. Miller, who was questioned by Crown attorney Linda Shin, one man, alleged to be Christian Theriault, asked the trio if they lived in the neighbourhood. One of Mr. Miller’s friends said no and gestured in the direction of the area where they lived.
Then the other man, alleged to be Michael Theriault, asked them what they were doing in the area.
Mr. Miller asked him why he was asking that question.
“He said he was a cop and he can ask what he wants,” Mr. Miller testified.
While Mr. Miller said he and his friends tried to walk away, the two men started chasing them. Mr. Miller’s friends escaped but Mr. Miller was grabbed by one of the men in the space between two houses.
He said the man alleged to be Christian Theriault put him in a headlock and pulled him to the ground, while the man alleged to be Michael Theriault hit him on his back and his head.
He said the man alleged to be Michael Theriault later began striking him in the head with a pipe, while the man alleged to be Christian Theriault hit him in the torso and lower body.
Mr. Miller eventually got up and banged on the house’s front door to ask for help, but when he turned around, he was struck twice in the face with the pipe by the man alleged to be Michael Theriault, he said.
At that point, he told the court, he could no longer feel pain and had no idea his eye was badly injured.
“I got hit and turned around and seen blood going on the floor. I hit the door and seen blood going on the door. It was the blood that made me realize I was bleeding profusely. I didn’t know where it was coming from,” he said.
Mr. Miller tried to make it to another house, but collapsed a few metres away on the driveway. When he tried to call 911 on his cellphone, he says the man alleged to be Michael Theriault climbed on his back and grabbed his phone.
A recording of the 911 call was played in court.
At one point, Michael Theriault says, "Dude, you’re under arrest.”
Mr. Miller later tells him, “Bro, you got the wrong guy.”
Most of the dialogue on the call is between Michael Theriault and the operator, although Mr. Miller’s muffled voice can be heard in the background. Christian Theriault had also called 911 from his phone, as did the homeowners at the house where Mr. Miller had pounded on the door.
Shortly after that, police arrived and Mr. Miller says he was handcuffed and taken to hospital. Court heard Tuesday from the Durham Regional Police constable who arrested him that it was Michael Theriault who put the handcuffs on Mr. Miller.
In their statements to police, both Michael and Christian Theriault alleged it was Mr. Miller who had attacked them with the pipe after they say they caught him breaking into their father’s pickup truck, which was parked in front of their house. Mr. Miller was charged with a range of offences, including assault with a weapon, but all charges were later dropped.
For weeks after the attack, Mr. Miller said, he felt pain “everywhere,” had sensitivity to light and “wasn’t even able to stand up for too long.”
He vomited frequently and stuck to a mostly liquid diet, he told court. He said he was withdrawn for several months afterwards and rarely went outside alone.
“I just was shaken up. I felt different. I was just trying not to be around people,” he said.