Three officers guilty of “pro-police bias” in investigation into the 2016 beating of Whitby’s Dafonte Miller


Published June 29, 2023 at 2:24 pm

Canadian Press

More Durham Regional Police officers have been found guilty of misconduct during the investigation into Michael Theriault, the Toronto cop who beat Whitby teen Dafonte Miller so badly he lost an eye.

The Office of the Independent Police Review Director, a civilian police watchdog, found the three officers, Constable Andrew Chmelowsky, Constable Justine Gendron, and Constable Barbara Zabdyr, guilty of discreditable conduct on June 26.

Miller walked past Theriault’s parents’ house on December 28, 2016. Michael and his brother Christian were in the garage. The brothers claimed they caught Miller in the act of stealing from their father’s truck while Miller said the brothers accosted him as he walked by.

Miller ran from the Theriault home and Michael chased him to a neighbouring yard. There he attacked Miller with a metal pipe beating him severely enough to rupture Miller’s left eye, damage the bones in his face, break his wrist and bruise him all over his body. Following the attack, Miller was taken to hospital, but surgeons could not save the eye.

Neighbours who witnessed the beating called 911. When Durham officers arrived on the scene Micheal Theriault identified himself as a Toronto police officer. However, police did not contact the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) to investigate, as is standard protocol when a cop seriously injures someone.

The responding Durham officers and Theriault’s superiors in Toronto police, including Durham’s new Chief Peter Moreira, argued Theriault was off-duty at the time, did not identify himself as a cop and did not use police equipment. The SIU didn’t learn about the attack until Miller’s lawyer, Julian Falconer, told them months later.

Waterloo police conducted an independent review of this decision years after the fact and found everyone involved in the decision erred in November 2021. Moriera was not reprimanded due to acting on orders from his superior who had retired by the time of the review. He was sworn in as Durham chief on March 24, 2023.

Meanwhile, responding officers Chmelowsky, Gendron and Zabdyr were later found to have immediately sided with Theriault after he identified himself as a cop and failed to investigate the origins of Miller’s injuries. The Theriaults claimed Miller had attacked them and had acted in self-defence.

All three were found guilty of discreditable conduct after they demonstrated a “pro-police bias by accepting and not questioning the evidence of the Theriault brothers or taking additional steps to
investigate how Mr. Miller substantiated his injuries,” the report declared.

Gendron was also found to have neglected her duties after not recording relevant comments from a witness and leaving her evidence pad behind while she looked for Christian Theriault. The witness was the owner of the home.

Gendron told the homeowner the police were investigating a a man breaking into cars. The homeowner, who witnessed the beating and later testified to it in court, told her “they did not have to kill that guy.” She did not write this down or mention it until the SIU investigation months later.

A fourth officer, Det. Cst. Craig Willis, was responsible for investigating the Theriaults once they were finally arrested. He later pled guilty of neglect of duty because he was found not to have challenged the Theriaults’ story. He also did not interview key witnesses and did not submit the pipe for forensic testing. The Office of the Independent Police Review Director noted Willis titled his report on the incident “an investigation of a theft from a vehicle.” Willis was docked 60 hours pay.

Durham police initially charged Miller with a few charges. including theft, but these were later dropped. Michael Theriault was ultimately charged with aggravated assault and obstruction of justice. He was convicted of simple assault charge in 2020. After the Supreme Court denied him an appeal, he served a nine month sentance and ultimately resigned from Toronto police. Christian Theriault was acquited of all charges.

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