Durham Regional Police Chief Paul Martin is launching an investigation into what he called “highly offensive material” recently shared in a private Facebook group for the region’s officers, a post he called “hateful and disgusting.”
“As your chief, I am shocked that an image like this would be shared and even ‘liked’ online by anyone connected to policing, past or present,” Martin said in an internal email addressed to all members Tuesday, and obtained by the Star.
Martin’s email was in connection to “Durham Regional Police Friends,” a private Facebook group he said was “mainly retired members of the service.” The chief’s note did not provide any description of the post, except to say it originated in the U.S. and was apparently posted by a retired Durham police officer.
The Star obtained a screen grab of a comic recently shared in the group, a stick figure drawing of two police officers beating a man with dark skin who is down on the ground. One of the officers is holding a long stick, the other is pointing his gun at the man and has his foot on the man’s head. The image was “liked” by others in the group. (The Star is not republishing the image.)
“My dad is my hero,” the drawing says, with an arrow to one of the police officers.
Durham Regional Police would not confirm the image was the “highly offensive material” he was referencing. Spokesperson Dave Selby confirmed the material was a cartoon, and that when Durham police became aware of it, they contacted the group’s administrators to have it taken down.
“It’s not a public page and is privately run — not connected to us in any official capacity,” Selby said in an email.
Reached by phone Tuesday, the retired Durham employee who posted the image said he thought it was “humourous” and “cute” — “it was something that struck my funny bone for a second.” He said he didn’t notice the dark colouring of the head in the picture, and thought it was just stick figures.
The Facebook group member, who identifies himself as Louis Waldman, denied the post was in reference to the ongoing trial of off-duty Toronto police officer Michael Theriault and his brother Christian Theriault, who are charged with assaulting Dafonte Miller, a young Black man, on a Whitby street in 2016.
The image was posted around the same time the trial was hearing evidence earlier this month. Miller, who was seriously injured and blinded in one eye, alleged both brothers beat him and that Michael Theriault struck him repeatedly with a metre-long aluminum pole, which was later recovered on the scene.
The brothers pleaded not guilty and allege they fought back against Miller in self-defence.
Durham Regional Police officers responded to the alleged assault but originally charged Miller with multiple offences that were later dropped. The Theriault brothers were charged months later by Ontario’s police watchdog, the Special Investigations Unit, but Durham police faced criticism for failing to alert the watchdog on the day of the incident.
“There will be no apology from me,” the group member said about posting the drawing. He told the Star he retired after 30 years with Durham police, but wouldn’t say when.
He called the post an “error in judgment” but stressed it was a closed group where no member of the public could see it (there are more than 650 members, according to a screen grab of the group seen by the Star.) He said the decision to complain about the post outside the group was a “cowardly act,” and called Martin’s response “overkill.”
“To me, the offender is really the person who went to the media instead of dealing with it like a normal person,” he said, adding that he has a diverse family.
“After they’ve gone this way outside the group, and embarrassed the department, I’m not apologizing,” he said.
Martin’s internal message acknowledged the image was “causing anger and resentment in the community we serve” and is insulting and hurtful to current police officers.
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Members of the offending group who are retired “should be ashamed of the hurt they have caused in the community and the damage they have done to the women and men who continue to serve,” he said.
“Let me be absolutely clear: There is zero-tolerance for this type of hateful behaviour, and anyone employed by our service involved in this kind of incitement will be investigated and disciplined to the fullest extent possible,” Martin said.
Selby confirmed that could mean investigating any current Durham police officers who may have “liked” the image, which has since been taken down.
Omar Ha-Redeye, executive director of the Durham Community Legal Clinic, which provides free legal services to low-income Durham residents, called the image “unfortunate,” saying it does “reflect some of the negative tensions that we have observed in Durham Region over the past month, and years.”
“There are now numerous incidents involving law enforcement and racialized accused that are characterized by the use of force and, perhaps, excessive violence,” Ha-Redeye said in an interview Tuesday.
Calvin Lawrence, a former RCMP officer and author of the book Black Cop, said he was pleased to see police leadership speaking out about the comic, but wants to see further denunciations from others within the rank and file.
He said if this kind of behaviour is allowed to take place internally, it won’t take long before the attitudes behind it begin to impact the public.
“It will eventually make its way to the citizens on the streets,” Lawrence said.
In his email, Martin said he wanted to reassure the citizens of our community “that the abhorrent actions of a few will not deter us from continuing to work harder every day to earn the public’s trust.
“On this day we all share the same sense of outrage and offence,” he wrote.