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He spent two years in jail. His jury took two hours to find him not guilty

May 28, 2024

The evidence against T.C. Anthony was “essentially reliant on a witness who had all the reason in the world to lie,” his lawyer said.

“I missed out on a lot,” T.C. Anthony said of his time in jail. Nick Iwanyshyn for the Toronto Star

By Jacques GallantCourts and Justice Reporter

Toronto Star: Timothy Clarke (T.C.) Anthony spent two years in jail awaiting trial for a fatal hit-and-run that shocked an Ontario community. 

It took a Cayuga jury two hours to find him not guilty.

“I was shaking up there when they were reading the verdict,” the 37-year-old told the Star in a recent interview. “I wasn’t sure what they were going to think. I’m an Indigenous man in a white court.”

In April 2021, 23-year-old Alexander Dalton was hit from behind by a speeding Chevrolet Tahoe in Hagersville. Dalton was thrown from his motorcycle into the path of an oncoming vehicle and died of his injuries. The Tahoe fled the scene.

At first, police investigated a different man, Dakota Davis, as the likely driver. The SUV was owned by Davis’s common-law partner, but in a police interview, Davis referred to it as “my truck.” His phone was found inside, on the driver’s side. 

At the time of Dalton’s death in April 2021, Davis, Anthony, their common-law partners and their children were all living together.

Still, Davis told police he didn’t know who was driving, and then denied it was him. It was only when the investigator asked if another man had been behind the wheel that Davis stopped being the prime suspect.

“So, was T.C. driving?” OPP officer Todd Amlin asked, according to a transcript of the interview. “If he was, tell me, that’s perfect, then we got a whole different route to take here.”

For T.C. Anthony’s Toronto-based lawyer, Tonya Kent, it’s another example of a prosecution that should never have happened, coming at a time when advocates are calling on Crown attorneys to completely rethink which cases to push through Ontario’s courts. The evidence connecting Anthony to the death of Alexander Dalton was weak, she said, yet he was repeatedly denied bail and was kept in jail until the moment last month when the jury swiftly rejected the Crown’s theory of the case.

Speaking to the Star, Kent specifically referenced the high-profile acquittal of Umar Zameer, accused of murder in the death of Toronto police Const. Jeffrey Northrup. Although harrowing, Zameer’s case was an anomaly, Kent explained. Here was a man with no criminal record or history with the police — a “perfect victim” caught up in the criminal justice system.

Anthony, on the other hand, is an Indigenous man from a marginalized community. His First Nations heritage includes Onondaga Nation Beaver Clan and Delaware Nation. His mother is a residential school survivor, and he’s suffered in the past from a substance-use disorder. He has a criminal record, and unlike Zameer, he was denied bail.

People like Anthony are generally the ones who end up being wrongly prosecuted or wrongly convicted, but their stories are rarely told, Kent said.

“It’s not that there are hundreds of Umar Zameers in jail,” she said. “There are hundreds of T.C.s in jail.”

‘So, was T.C. driving?’

The investigation began to focus on Davis after his partner admitted she falsely reported her SUV stolen in the aftermath of the crash. She was charged with public mischief, as was Anthony’s partner, who was with her when she made the false report.

Four months after the crash, Davis went into a Haldimand OPP station for a voluntary interview, conducted by Amlin. According to a transcript, Amlin told Davis: “You are our suspect, our main suspect … Every piece of evidence we have right now, Dakota, is pointing to you as the driver.”

Davis spends most of the first half of the interview saying he doesn’t want to go to jail, doesn’t really want to talk, and wants to spend at least one more night with his family. When Amlin asks him directly, twice, if he was driving, Davis responds: “I don’t know.” And then follows up later with a denial.

Amlin suggests that Davis told people, including relatives, details about hitting Dalton. Anthony “has told all these people that, so has (his partner),” Amlin says. The conversation then becomes mostly inaudible, according to the transcript, until Amlin suddenly asks if it was Anthony who was driving.

“How would that look on me though?” Davis responds. 

The officer presses him, suggesting Anthony knows details that might mean he was behind the wheel. 

“Was he drivin’, Dakota?” Amlin says. “This is important, man. You need to protect you and your family if that’s the case … If we have our eyes on the wrong guy, you need to let me know.”

Davis says he’s worried how it will look if he’s “ratting” Anthony out, to which Amlin responds: “I don’t f—-in’ care how it looks on you, I need the truth.”

Eventually, Davis says Anthony was the driver, and he was a passenger, which he maintained in his testimony at Anthony’s trial. 

Davis pleaded guilty to accessory after the fact. According to an agreed statement of facts filed with his plea, Davis reported that Anthony had asked for a drive to an address to pick up drugs. Before heading back, Davis said he began to feel the effects of his afternoon drinking, so Anthony got behind the wheel. There was no one else in the car at the time of the crash; Davis said Anthony instructed him and his partner to falsely report the vehicle stolen.

Davis’s lawyer declined to comment for this story. 

Eyewitnesses reported seeing the SUV being driven at various times by two Indigenous men around the ages of 18 to 22 — younger than Anthony, Kent said. At his trial, one woman testified that she saw Anthony driving the vehicle earlier in the evening, prior to the crash; Kent said the woman initially pointed to her forearms in court as she described the driver having tattoos. Anthony does not have tattoos on his arms.

The defence argued instead that it was Davis and another man who were in the car. The man’s DNA was found inside, while Davis could not be excluded from two samples, according to an agreed statement of facts. Anthony’s DNA was not found in the car. 

Ultimately, the evidence against Anthony was “essentially reliant on a witness who had all the reason in the world to lie,” Kent said.

“There was no other evidence that put T.C. in that car that unfortunately killed Mr. Dalton.”

A spokesperson said the OPP is aware of the jury’s verdict, but declined to comment on its investigation. 

Crown attorneys have complete discretion over which charges laid by police — if any — should be taken to court. They’re required by policy to only proceed if there is a reasonable prospect of conviction and it’s in the public interest to prosecute.

The Ministry of the Attorney General declined the Star’s request for comment. Attorney General Doug Downey’s office has previously said that prosecution decisions are made independently of government. 

Kent echoed the calls of other lawyers who believe the threshold to prosecute must be increased to “substantial likelihood of conviction,” the standard in British Columbia, to filter out more weak cases from an over-burdened system.

But Kent also argues that the case against Anthony didn’t even cross Ontario’s current, lower threshold. “I don’t think the Crown used their discretion appropriately in this case,” she said. 

‘How can he not get out?’

Anthony was arrested in April 2022 on charges including criminal negligence causing death and failing to stop at the scene of a fatal accident. He maintained he wasn’t in the Tahoe. 

“I was angry, I was mad, I was crying in the cell,” he told the Star. “It was a shock, like, ‘What? You’re charging me for that?’”

He faced an uphill battle in getting bail, mainly due to his criminal record, including convictions for breaking and entering, dangerous driving, failing to attend court and breaching court orders. He also had outstanding charges for driving without a licence. 

Kent proposed that Anthony be released with two sureties in Vancouver — his sister and her friend — who promised to the court that they would ensure that Anthony would follow his bail conditions, including a curfew and a further driving ban. 

Justice of the Peace Robert Munro denied bail after concluding that the Crown’s case was “strong enough,” while recognizing, “there are some triable issues, particularly, as regards putting Mr. Anthony behind the wheel of the Tahoe.”

He also found that Anthony’s surety plan wasn’t strong enough to lower the risk of him re-offending, especially due to his prior convictions.

Kent then went to the Superior Court for a bail review, this time presenting much stricter bail conditions, including house arrest and ankle monitoring, along with four sureties, all of whom lived in the area: Anthony’s father, stepmother, another sister, and a friend. Anthony would reside with the first three.

Justice Donald Gordon maintained Anthony’s detention, finding the new surety plan would still not mitigate Anthony’s risk of re-offending. “The Crown’s case may not be the strongest but it is by no means weak,” the judge wrote.

A different Superior Court judge ordered that Anthony remain in jail following a detention review heard in August 2023, when Kent again urged the court to release her client to his family and to consider whether the Crown actually had a strong case.

“Neither court previous to yours was naive about the Crown’s case,” Crown attorney Gabriele Settimi told Justice Liza Sheard during that hearing.

“But the Crown never made the case more than what it is. It does rely on Mr. Davis’s evidence. But no one’s ever hid that from anyone. That, that is the case. And a lot will come from his evidence if and when this matter reaches trial, if and when he takes the stand.”

Kent was exasperated.

“I remember thinking ‘How can he not get out?’” she said. “Every time I did a bail hearing, I felt like I was being gaslit.”

Kent pointed to the disproportionate representation of Indigenous people in the correctional system, caused by “Indigenous people being criminalized more heavily than others, and being unable to get bail because of criminal records — criminal records likely racked up due to over-policing of Indigenous communities.”

Anthony said he was assaulted twice while in jail in Hamilton; once attacked by an inmate with a razor blade who slashed his forehead, and once kicked in the head while doing push-ups. He was subjected to frequent lockdowns, and he participated in a hunger strike after inmates weren’t receiving their mail.

He said he was also repeatedly denied access to a room for smudging, the Indigenous practice of burning sacred herbs to purify the body and soul. He said he was finally allowed to go after writing in a letter that he would go on a hunger strike — at the bottom he wrote, “So much for reconciliation.”

Thinking he would get bail, Anthony told one of his four children that he was “just going to work,” only to tell his son the truth after being denied release a second time. He missed birthdays and Christmases, and a son starting Grade 1.

He also lost two aunts, an uncle and his grandfather while he was in jail — “people that I really loved and cared for.

“I missed out on a lot,” he said.

‘Any native guy will do’

In her opening address to the jury this year, Kent said that she and co-counsel Sherif Foda were not just going to call Anthony to testify, but “we’re going to solve this case for the family of Alexander Dalton — we are going to put the pieces together in a way that makes sense. We are going to try to make up for the negligent investigation of Officer Todd Amlin.”

They also called a man who lived near where the car had been left. He testified that he picked up two young Indigenous men the night of the collision whom he believed to be hitchhikers, one of whom appeared drunk. The defence argued this was Davis and another man who was with him in the Tahoe that night.

Anthony testified that Davis’s common-law partner turned to him and his partner for help after Davis asked her to report the SUV stolen. Anthony admitted he helped in the scheme by telling the two women to make the false report from his mother’s house. He said he didn’t know anyone had been killed at the time, only that there had been an accident, and was helping his partner who wanted to protect Davis, her half-brother.

“Mr. Anthony has always denied being the driver, and you’ll hear that whenever Mr. Anthony has committed an offence, he has pled guilty to it,” Kent told the jury. “He’s pleaded not guilty to causing the death of Alexander Dalton because he is, in fact, not guilty.”

The jury ultimately agreed, and in quick fashion, too.

“I personally think that someone had to go down, and frankly, it didn’t matter who,” Kent told the Star. Anthony interjected: “A native guy did it and any native guy will do.”

A few days after his acquittal, Anthony pleaded guilty to the outstanding and unrelated charges of driving without a licence, received credit for time served, and was released from jail.

Now that he’s finally out, Anthony has been reconnecting with his children, taking them fishing and to the carnival. “Making up for some lost time for sure,” he said.

“I don’t have enough time left. I don’t know, I’m getting older, and I need to make the best of my time with my kids.”

Jacques Gallant is a Toronto-based reporter covering courts, justice and legal affairs for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @JacquesGallant