Taking the stand at his own trial on Tuesday, off-duty Toronto police officer Michael Theriault admitted he injured Whitby man Dafonte Miller but said he did so with punches thrown in self-defence.
Speaking to a full Oshawa courtroom Tuesday morning, Theriault, 27, was adamant that neither he nor his brother, Christian Theriault, struck Miller with a weapon. Rather, the officer testified, it was Miller who was armed with a metal pipe that was found at the scene and entered into evidence at the Theriault brothers’ ongoing criminal trial.
“Did you see anyone using the pipe that morning?” asked Michael Lacy, Michael Theriault’s lawyer, within a minute of his client taking the stand, saying he wanted to jump to the heart of the matter.
“Yes … Mr. Miller,” Michael Theriault said, a statement that prompted laughter from the public gallery and a warning from Ontario Superior Court Justice Joseph Di Luca that such outbursts wouldn’t be tolerated.
Theriault and his younger brother are jointly charged with aggravated assault and separately charged with attempt to obstruct justice in the Dec. 28, 2016, beating that injured Miller, then 19, resulting in the loss of his left eye.
Both have pleaded not guilty in the judge-alone trial.
In testimony last week, Miller told the court he was beaten by the Theriaults after they asked him and two friends what they were doing in the residential neighbourhood near the Theriault family home. When Miller and his friends walked away, he said, the brothers chased him down Whitby’s Erickson Drive.
Miller alleges both brothers repeatedly punched him and that Michael Theriault repeatedly struck him with a pipe, causing his eye injury.
On the stand, Theriault denied nearly all aspects of Miller’s account, admitting only that he’d repeatedly punched Miller “as hard as I could” in an attempt to disarm him and keep him from harming himself and his brother.
Acknowledging he caused Miller’s eye injury “with my fist,” Theriault said it was “absolutely not” his intention.
“My intention was to disarm Mr. Miller so he could stop hitting me and my brother with that pole,” Theriault told the court.
According to Theriault’s account, he and his brother were smoking in the garage after a late night playing video games with their visiting uncle when they heard what sounded like the doors of their parents’ Ford F150 truck, parked in the driveway, closing.
Theriault told his brother to hit the automatic garage door opener, and as the door began opening, he said he rolled under and saw two people exiting the truck.
“I didn’t know if they were stealing stuff from it, or if they were going to hot-wire the truck,” Theriault said, when asked what was going through his mind.
The two males who were in the truck began running, Theriault said, prompting him and his brother to begin chasing one of the men down Erickson Drive. In between two houses, he said the man — who he now knows was Miller — attempted to hop a fence.
“I figured he was fleeing and didn’t want to get caught,” Theriault said.
Theriault said he then “bodychecked” Miller to stop him from getting over the fence. It was right after that that he claims he began getting hit with something that he knew wasn’t a fist, Theriault said.
He began backing up and called out to his brother that Miller had a “bat,” saying at that point he didn’t know what the weapon was because it was so dark.
Theriault then claimed his brother attempted to “engage” Miller but that he was struck in the head with what he now knows was a pipe. Seeing his brother hit was “very traumatic,” Theriault testified.
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The off-duty cop then said he applied his police training and knew that he should “close the distance” to try to disarm Miller, knowing the man wouldn’t be able to swing the weapon if he got close.
Theriault testified he then began punching him “wherever I could” and “as hard as I could.”
More to come.