by Steve da Silva
It’s sometimes known as the ‘Blue Wall of Silence’. Sometimes the ‘Blue Code’. It’s that unwritten rule amongst cops that you don’t report on a fellow officer, even if doing so is in breach of the law, even when this means covering up heinous acts. If you’ve never heard these expressions before, or maybe you remain unconvinced of the extent to which this code governs the culture within police forces, the case of Dafonte Miller will convince you otherwise.
On the night of December 28, 2016 in Whitby, Ontario, 19-year-old Dafonte Miller and two of his friends were chased down by two white men who wanted to know what the youth were doing in their neighbourhood. The chase ended with Miller being nearly beaten to death with a metal pipe.
A broken nose, a broken orbital bone, a fractured right wrist, and an eye hanging out of its socket: this is what the ambulance would find upon their arrival. His assailants, on the other hand, reported no injuries.
What kind of person thinks that they can get away with nearly lynching a young black man in the middle of the night for merely walking down the street? As it turns out, Toronto police constable Michael Theriault of 42 Division (a northeast Scarborough division), along with his brother Christian.
Dafonte Miller’s blood is reported to have been found streaked on the doors of houses he was desperately trying to seek refuge in – the same desperation that led the young man, not the police officer, to place a 9-1-1 call at 2:52am.
But when the Durham Regional Police responded to Miller’s call, it was Miller who was arrested and charged. No witnesses were interviewed. Miller’s charges included assault with a weapon, theft under $5000, and possession of marijuana, and was slapped with bail conditions consisting of a curfew and a prohibition on consuming alcohol. Yes, Miller’s lawyer has admitted that he had 0.4g of marijuana on him; but the rest of the allegations, his family and lawyer are saying, are a complete fabrication.
And these fabrications would have likely stuck, and led to convictions for Miller, had the news of this case not ultimately broke, no thanks to the help of the corporate media itself.
The media was only forced to report on this case some time after the family’s lawyer Julian Falconer, well known for taking on police brutality cases, had brought the case to the attention of the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) at the end of April 2017.
On July 18, 2017, the SIU brought criminal charges against the 25-year-old Constable Michael Theriault for aggravated assault, assault with a weapon, and public mischief — the last charge of which was for misleading SIU investigators. Days later, the SIU made the unprecedented move to charge 21-year-old Christian Theriault, a civilian, jointly with his brother under the same charges.
It’s only after these charges were brought against the Theriault brothers and the SIU released press statements on its website that the corporate media reported on what happened to Dafonte Miller. Without those charges, the two police services may have succeeded in keeping the story under wraps, and away from the scrutiny of the SIU.
This past August 23, the SIU came forward with charges against another Toronto police officer, Constable Joseph Dropuljic, for an assault against another young man dating back to November 2015. As with the case of Dafonte Miller, Toronto Police Services ignored their duty to report the incident to the SIU.
According to the Ontario Police Services Act, “A chief of police shall notify the SIU immediately of an incident involving one or more of his or her police officers.” BASICS asked Toronto criminal defense attorney Shane Martinez on what this breach may mean for police services.
“When a chief of police fails to notify the SIU of serious injuries that may have resulted from criminal offences committed by police officers, he or she is potentially in breach of their lawful duty to report.”
“In the event of such a breach, the victim could file a complaint with the OIPRD (Office of the Independent Police Review Director) or have recourse available in the form of a civil suit for negligence. This would be in addition to a possible civil suit for assault, battery and Charter violations that could be made against the officer responsible for the injuries. If it is believed that the officer’s actions were motivated in whole or in part by prejudice or bias, it would be worthwhile to consider pursuing the matter at Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.”
On July 27, Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders reported at a meeting of the Toronto Police Services Board that members of the Professional Standards Unit determined that the case did not meet the threshold to report to the SIU. The SIU evidently thought otherwise. Interestingly enough, Michael Theriault’s father, John Theriault, has been a detective with Professional Standards for over thirty years.
While they await trial, insult has been piled onto injury as the Theriault brothers have been granted bail conditions far lighter than those faced by Miller when he was initially charged. The Theriaults can leave the province, go out at night and drink, all while the suspended-with-pay Michael Theriault collects his $100k+ salary. They are only prohibited from possessing weapons, or contacting Dafonte Miller, his family, and any member of the Durham Regional Police.
Both police forces failed to inform the SIU. The body responsible for failing to report the Dafonte Miller case to the SIU is staffed by Michael Theriault’s father, John Theriault. Durham Regional Police failed to interview witnesses on the scene, and then pushed trumped up charges onto the victim whose eye was hanging out of its socket when they arrived. The Theriault brothers are facing a charge for misleading investigators. This was an attempted cover-up that spans two agencies and up and down the ranks. This is how the Blue Code works.