Skip to main content

'We made the wrong decision that night,' interim police chief James Ramer, seen here attending a news conference in Toronto on Nov. 19, 2019, said at a press conference Thursday.Tijana Martin/The Canadian Press

Toronto’s new interim police chief has apologized for the force’s handling of a vicious police assault on a Black teenager, acknowledging they erred in not alerting the province’s police watchdog after an off-duty constable beat Dafonte Miller in Whitby, Ont., in December, 2016.

“We made the wrong decision that night,” interim chief James Ramer, who took lead of the service following Mark Saunders’s retirement at the end of July, said at a press conference Thursday. “As a result of that decision, trust has been broken between the police, Dafonte Miller and the broader community. For that, on behalf of the Toronto Police Service, I want to apologize.”

Mr. Miller, then 19, was beaten so badly that he lost an eye, in what Constable Michael Theriault claimed was an attempted arrest near his Whitby home on Dec. 28, 2016. Constable Theriault and his brother Christian, a civilian, were charged with aggravated assault in the case, and attempt to obstruct justice. Constable Theriault, who remains employed by TPS, was convicted of the lesser charge of assault in June following a weeks-long trial. His brother was acquitted. The Crown has appealed both verdicts.

The high-profile case has been a stain on TPS at a time of global protest against police brutality and anti-Black racism. In Toronto, marches have been held routinely since the killing in May of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, which sparked calls across the continent to “defund police.” The Ontario Human Rights Commission is expected to release two new reports next week, as part of an inquiry into racial profiling and racial discrimination of Black people by TPS.

Chief Ramer’s apology Thursday in the Miller case followed the completion of a report by the province’s Office of the Independent Police Review Director, which probes complaints against police.

The chief said he could not comment on the OIPRD’s report, which has been provided only to the police board, Mr. Miller and his lawyer. But he said it focused on the duty to report to the province’s Special Investigations Unit, which probes all cases involving police that result in serious injury, death, or allegations of sexual assault.

Chief Ramer said that while the force’s “SIU designate” was notified after the assault, the information was not relayed to the SIU.

Moving forward, Chief Ramer said Thursday that the force will notify the SIU whenever a police officer has been involved in an incident that results in serious injury – regardless of whether they were on duty or off duty at the time: “We understand clearly now that the legislation does not distinguish between on-duty and off-duty conduct, and neither will we.”

Desmond Cole, a Toronto journalist, activist and author, dismissed this as an empty pledge. “This is what accountability looks like in 2020. Permanently disabling a Black young man, and then 3½ years later saying maybe we should have called someone,” he said. “It’s disgusting.”

Mr. Cole also pointed to the many unanswered questions that remain about the case, particularly around Constable Theriault’s father, John Theriault, a senior TPS officer who was working at that time in the service’s professional standards unit.

Asked Thursday about any investigation into his role in the case, Chief Ramer declined to comment, saying he believed that may still be continuing. He said there are other aspects that the OIPRD is still reviewing.

“Even with the recent verdict, the case is far from over,” Chief Ramer said, noting the case is being appealed. “I … acknowledge that Mr. Miller’s life has forever been impacted by the events of that evening.”

Mr. Miller’s lawyer, Julian Falconer, said Thursday that the report and the press conference came as a surprise to Mr. Miller and his family. Mr. Falconer said he expected to be able to provide a comment Friday after they have a chance to digest the findings.

Though he will only act as chief until a new leader is selected, Chief Ramer said Thursday he is committed to “show[ing] our communities that in the city of Toronto, residents can trust the police, have faith in the police and feel safe and secure to enjoy their daily lives with the police.”

In a statement, the police board said its members “echo the apology that has been made to Mr. Miller and to the community at large, and we stand behind Chief Ramer and the service in committing ourselves to this work.”

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.