'Trust has been broken': Toronto's interim police chief apologizes to Dafonte Miller, promises transparency
TORONTO -- During his first news conference as Toronto’s interim police chief, James Ramer issued a public apology to Dafonte Miller, a young Black man who was assaulted by an off-duty officer in 2016, saying the service “made the wrong decision” that night when it failed to immediately notify the province’s police watchdog of the matter.
“As a result of that decision, trust has been broken between the police, Danfonte Miller and the broader community. For that, on behalf of the Toronto Police Service, I want to apologize,” Ramer said on Thursday morning.
It was day five on the new job for Ramer when he addressed the media publicly for the first time.
Ramer was pronounced as Mark Saunders’ successor following his retirement announcement in early June. At the time, Saunders said he would be leaving his role as chief effective July 31 to be “full-time dad and a full-time husband that’s not an exhausted by-product who walks through the door at the end of the day.”
Saunders held the top title at the service since April 2015 and was the first Black person to ever be appointed to the role.
On Thursday, Ramer began by listing off what he plans to tackle over the next several months, including addressing better ways to deal with mental health-related calls, implementing body-worn cameras and identifying and eliminating systemic anti-Black racism within the service.
All in all, Ramer called “transparency and accountability” his top priorities.
In saying that, the 40-year veteran of the Toronto Police Service addressed the “complex case” of an off-duty officer, Michael Theriault, assaulting Miller, who lost an eye during the altercation on Dec. 28, 2016.
Theriault and his younger brother, Christian, were jointly charged with aggravated assault in connection with the violent dispute. During a virtual hearing held on June 26, Theriault was found guilty of the lesser charge of assault and his brother was acquitted.
A separate investigation into the matter led by the Office of the Independent Police Review Director was released on Thursday, Ramer said, while acknowledging the case is still far from over. Ramer said the report has been shared with Miller and his counsel.
According to the interim chief, the report generally focuses on the issue of a police service’s duty to report to the Special Investigations Unit.
“It found that on the night in question we were notified of the actions of Const. Theriault while he was on leave, also known as off-duty. As we have so many times before, we used the information available to us that evening to determine whether we should report to the SIU – we made the wrong decision that night,” he said.
While stating how that decision broke trust between police and the Black community, Ramer made a promise moving forward that the service will now notify the SIU “in all cases where a Toronto officer has been involved in an incident that results in serious injury.”
“We are revising our procedures in this area and will be implementing the new, more robust legislation regarding the reporting requirement for SIU matters,” he said. “We understand clearly now the legislation does not distinguish between on-duty and off-duty conduct and neither will we.”
When asked what exactly happened on that night more than three years ago when the SIU was not immediately notified, Ramer said that is still under investigation.
Ramer said he is not allowed to provide any further details as to the findings of the report and is not permitted to release it publicly.
Following his conviction, a sentencing hearing for Theriault is scheduled to take place on Sept. 25.
Miller’s lawyers have previously said the exact time for the hearing has not yet been confirmed and the judge’s decision will be released at a later date.
According to Ramer, both counsels are appealing Ontario Superior Court Justice Joseph Di Luca’s ruling.
Toronto Police Service faces ‘extremely challenging time’
Ramer will serve as top cop until the Toronto Police Services Board appoints a permanent chief at an unknown time.
Ramer, who led the service’s Community Partnerships and Engagement Unit and co-chaired the chief’s Black Consultative Committee for five years, said he is “honoured to have been asked to lead during this extremely challenging time.”
“I do not face these challenges alone,” he said. “I am surrounded by a very capable command team, qualified senior officers and dedicated frontline members, both uniform and civilian.”
Ramer said he aims to show communities across Toronto that they can have trust in their police service while ensuring officers will be held accountable for their actions.
Responding to the commitments voiced by Ramer on Thursday, Mayor John Tory said “this is an important step towards repairing trust, greater accountability and the reform that the police service and the police services board has committed to.”
“We know that further action is needed and I know Interim Chief Ramer is committed to working with the Police Services Board and Council on important efforts to continue to modernize the service,” he said.
Speaking at the end of June, Tory said Toronto’s next police chief must have a sensitivity to anti-Black racism, as well as a commitment to ushering in a “change in policing.”
The board, which Tory sits on, has said it is developing a “comprehensive chief selection process” to find the next person for the role.