A Toronto police officer has taken the stand at his aggravated assault trial, acknowledging he caused the victim’s severe eye injury but was acting in self-defence.
But Michael Theriault says he hit Dafonte Miller with his fist because, he alleges, the young black man had attacked Theriault and his brother, Christian.
Asked why he didn’t identify himself as a police officer at that point, Theriault testified he was focused on the situation at hand — particularly after seeing his brother get hit in the head with a metal pole or pipe.
At the heart of the case is who wielded the pipe that night, and where it came from, with prosecutors and defence lawyers providing vastly different narratives. The pipe, which is more than a metre long, was shown in court earlier in the trial.
“My first and foremost thought was, ‘He has a weapon,’ and I just wanted to make sure me and Christian were safe,” he told the court.
The 27-year-old Theriault said he chased Miller into a dark, alley-like area between two homes and bodychecked him into a fence while his brother followed closely behind. He said that’s when he felt something hit his body – something that “didn’t feel like a fist,” he said.
Theriault said he started punching Miller wherever he could, as hard as he could, after seeing his brother get hit on the side of the head with the pipe.
“I was trying to distract him so he would at least loosen his grip on the pole,” he said.
At no point during the encounter did Theriault identify himself as a police officer, though he did tell Miller later on that he was under arrest, court heard. Theriault said he was focused on making sure Miller didn’t escape.
“It just didn’t come to my mind ? everything happened so fast,” he said.
Prosecutors, however, suggested Theriault didn’t identify himself as an officer – as his training would dictate – because his intention wasn’t to arrest Miller, but to beat him.
Prosecutors suggested Theriault, an officer used to having at least a gun and a baton at hand, would have armed himself before chasing a potentially dangerous stranger into a dark area.
Crown attorney Peter Scrutton argued Theriault took the pipe from the garage as he ran out and suggested the reason the officer bodychecked Miller on the fence was because one of his hands was full. Otherwise, he said, Theriault could simply have grabbed the teen, he argued.
Theriault said that wasn’t the case. “Not sure why I bodychecked him, I just did,” he said.
He told the court he never lost sight of Miller during the chase and did not see the young man carrying a pipe as he fled. “Still to this day I don’t know exactly where it came from,” he said.
CityNews reporter Pam Seatle is covering the trial. Read updates from her and previous updates from 680 NEWS Momin Qureshi below, or click here:
The brothers are jointly charged with aggravated assault in the Dec. 28, 2016, encounter that eventually caused Miller to lose his left eye.
They are also separately charged with obstruction of justice for the way they portrayed the incident to investigators. They have pleaded not guilty.
The now 22-year-old Miller testified last week that he was severely beaten with a pipe.
His lawyers have alleged outside court that race played a role in the attack.