Toronto police chief denies ‘cover up’ in alleged ‘violent attack’ by off-duty officer
Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders is denying there has been an attempt at a “cover up” after a delay in notifying the province’s police watchdog of the alleged assault of a 19-year-old man by an off-duty police officer, while Mayor John Tory said he was “disturbed” by the case and “unanswered questions” remain.
“To say that this is a cover up is misleading. This is not a cover up. My officers acted in good faith,” Saunders said Wednesday.
“I don’t think that this is an environment where you can hide things anymore so I don’t think that it would have been prudent for seasoned officers to try to manufacture or cover up or mislead in anyway shape or form. It’s a matter of how they interpreted law at that time, with the information that they received.”
Toronto police Const. Michael Theriault was charged July 18 in connection with the alleged assault of Dafonte Miller, which took place in Whitby, Ont., on Dec. 28, 2016.
Miller was allegedly chased down and beaten with a steel pipe in the incident and was taken to hospital with serious injuries including a broken jaw, nose and wrist. He is currently waiting to undergo surgery in order to remove his left eye, which was irreparably injured in the incident.
“I think there are some unanswered questions, not just so much about what the chief said, but the entire history of this event,” Tory said Wednesday.
“I continue to have a concern about this, both in terms of the process and obviously the fact that someone was assaulted by a police officer, whether on or off duty.”
Civilian Christian Theriault, the officer’s brother, was also charged in the same incident. Both Theriaults are currently jointly charged with aggravated assault and assault with a weapon, and are facing individual charges of public mischief.
Miller’s lawyer, Julian Falconer, said Wednesday he had informed the Special Investigations Unit of the case four months after it happened, after Toronto and Durham police officers failed to do so.
“In my 28 years as a lawyer I have never seen such a gratuitous, senseless, violent attack by a police officer,” Falconer said, describing Const. Theriault as a “very violent rogue officer.”
“No one, as far as I’m concerned, provided an explanation for how this could’ve happened … There are only two words that described what’s occurred here and that’s cover up.”
Saunders said the investigating officers were working based on information they had at the time.
“They thought it through and at the end of it, he did not identify himself as a police officer to the people he was in contact with,” Saunders said.
“Based on the information that my officers knew, nobody knew that the interaction involved a police officer.”
Yet Falconer said Const. Theriault was identified as a police officer to Durham Regional Police at the scene, police dispatchers and civilians. He said there should have been no reason why the incident wasn’t immediately reported to the SIU.
“When I use the words cover up I am referring to both police services. It doesn’t help matters for the chief of police to be out there doing damage control today instead of simply, in my opinion, telling the truth,” he said.
“This was a matter over which SIU should’ve been contacted immediately at the time. Instead months went by and an investigation was allowed to be irreparably prejudiced.”
Durham Regional Police spokesman Dave Selby told Global News Wednesday officers responded to a report of a suspicious person on Dec. 28, 2016 and identified one of the individuals as an off-duty Toronto police officer.
“When it became apparent to us that one of the people involved was an off-duty officer, we would have made that police service aware under the regulations,” he said.
“The police service that employs the officer would be required to call the SIU.”
Falconer said eye witnesses weren’t interviewed in the investigation and key statements weren’t taken at the scene.
“How do you leave out an eye witness who introduces himself to the police? The only way you do that is on purpose,” he said.
“When it’s charges against a member of the public, you see a very transparent exercise properly talking about the investigation and actually showing for all the world to see the fruits of the investigation, early in the process. When it’s one of their own, magically we find public officials taking the fifth.”
Tory said he had not yet spoken to the police chief about the incident, but said it would be addressed Thursday.
“I have had no conversations with him on this matter of substance. We will talk together tomorrow at the Police Services Board meeting, with all the other colleagues on the board, and we will see where it goes from there,” he said.
“The bottom line here is there were some acts of physical violence that were committed, there have been charges laid so the matter is before the courts.”
Falconer said the public has a right to expect the Toronto Police Services Board to answer questions directly as to why the SIU wasn’t notified immediately.
“I can’t emphasize enough that the board has to act independently of the service they oversee and this is the opportunity to prove they’re doing that,” he said.
“This has been devastating for a 19-year-old youth with no criminal record who’s never, never encountered anything like this. This inexplicable, gratuitous violence that he was the victim of obviously is going to leave a scar on him for the rest of his life.”
With files from The Canadian Press
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