Sharon Fletcher will pull on her “Here for Dafonte” T-shirt Friday and head to the Oshawa, Ont., courthouse for the verdict in the trial of two men accused of beating Dafonte Miller — a case that has made headlines in the Toronto area and across the country.
Even though the courthouse will be empty due to the novel coronavirus, she’ll stand with others outside to show her support for Miller — a young Black man left blinded in one eye during a confrontation with a police officer and his brother three-and-a-half years ago.
Fletcher, a Black woman with adult children, says she can’t imagine the possibility of the brothers being found not guilty.
But if they’re convicted, “I think that for the first time in a long time, it’ll feel like Black lives really do matter. That we are counted and seen as human beings,” she told CBC News.
Michael Theriault, a Toronto police officer who was off duty that night in December 2016, and his younger brother, Christian, both face charges of aggravated assault and obstruction of justice. The brothers have pleaded not guilty, telling the court Miller attacked them that night and they were defending themselves.
Ontario Superior Court Justice Joseph Di Luca will read his judgment live on a YouTube link that’s being widely shared by community members.
The evidence in the trial was heard months before people took to the streets in the United States, Canada and around the world to protest the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and other similar cases. But Miller’s case has also drawn attention to the same issues: anti-Black racism and police brutality.
2 vastly different versions of events presented in court
The defence has argued it’s not a case of race but of self-defence. The Crown contends there was no justification for the beating Miller suffered that night.
Miller, who was 19 at the time of the incident, said he was walking down a residential street in the early morning hours in Whitby, Ont. — more than 50 kilometres east of Toronto — with two friends. He testified that the brothers, who were at their father’s house, came outside and questioned them. He told the court he ran and the Theriaults chased him, catching up to him between two houses.
He said they beat him — punching, kicking and hitting him with an object. He made his way to the front of a home and banged on the door for help, but the beating continued.
Homeowner James Silverthorn, a district chief with Toronto Fire Services, was a Crown witness. He said he woke up even before the banging on the door to the sounds of screaming.
He looked through his side window and saw two men beating another man.
“It was continuous. It was very hard,” he told the court.
He said later, when the men had moved to the front of his house, he saw one man holding an object, stabbing down with it, to keep the man on the ground from getting up.
A long metal pole with blood on it was found at the scene.
The Theriault brothers told the court they caught Miller and one of his friends breaking into their parents’ vehicle and that they were trying to apprehend him.
They testified that once they caught up to him, Miller was the one with a pipe and that he was hitting them.
Michael Theriault admitted in court that he punched Miller repeatedly, as hard as he could, trying to disarm him. He said he and his brother feared for their lives.
‘This case is not about race,’ defence argued
In written closing submissions, the defence wrote: “This case is not about race.”
The narratives put forward by Miller and his lawyer “bear no resemblance to what actually happened,” their submission reads.
The defence lawyers also argued Miller lied in court when he denied breaking into cars that night.
Prosecutors said even if Miller was breaking into cars, the severe beating that caused him to lose his left eye was not justified.
Lawyer Omar Ha-Redeye, executive director of the Durham Community Legal Clinic, said that whatever the judge rules, he wouldn’t be surprised if he mentions the current climate and the increased focus on anti-Black racism.
“Although judges are essentially making a decision about the specific case that is before them, what they’re also doing is speaking to why the law is what it is,” he said.
“And so justice is not just done, but it must be seen to be done.”
Ha-Redeye said one positive thing about having the decision streamed online due to the COVID-19 pandemic is that more people will be able to watch the court process.
Miller’s online supporters said the case is gathering attention around the world, so many who will be watching the decision may be doing so from outside Canada.
Meanwhile, Sharon Fletcher will be waiting outside the courthouse, hoping Di Luca will bring down the guilty verdict she feels is just and fair.
“I think it’ll put a bit more faith in the current system.”