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Joe Smyth acted appropriately: report

Justice Leo Barry (left) and Justice Minister Andrew Parsons speak to the media after the report of the Commission of Inquiry Respecting the Death of Donald Dunphy was released to the public Tuesday.
Justice Leo Barry (left) and Justice Minister Andrew Parsons speak to the media after the report of the Commission of Inquiry Respecting the Death of Donald Dunphy was released to the public Tuesday.

It’s probably the most scrutinized 15 minutes in the province’s history — that period of time on Easter Sunday, April 5, 2015 during which Donald Dunphy was shot and killed in his Mitchell’s Brook home by RNC officer Joseph Smyth.

On Tuesday, Justice Leo Barry — who led the Commission of Inquiry Respecting the Death of Donald Dunphy — delivered his report to Justice Minister Andrew Parsons.

The inquiry not only examined the evidence of what happened during Smyth’s visit to Dunphy’s home that day, but analyzed what led up to the incident and what unfolded during the RCMP investigation following the shooting.

Among his conclusions, Barry found that though Smyth made certain errors of judgment and non-compliance with aspects of his training, he responded with appropriate force when Dunphy, with no warning, threatened him with a rifle.

Barry concluded that — though there were some deficiencies in the RCMP investigation — the RCMP made the correct decision in not charging Smyth with any offence.

Smyth, who at the time of the shooting was a member of the protective services unit for the premier’s office, had visited the home of the 58-year-old disgruntled injured worker about certain comments he had posted to Twitter.

Through more than 100,000 pages of submitted documents and the evidence of 56 witnesses heard during the inquiry hearings from January to March of this year, Barry compiled a detailed and comprehensive report that touched on all aspects of the incident and makes a number of conclusions and recommendations.

“I made certain key recommendations which I believe would go a long way to avoid this happening in the future,” Barry said Tuesday at a media briefing. “One has to do with better training for police officers in the RNC and, in fact, any police officers who work in the province should be trained in the modern approach where the emphasis is on de-escalation or defusing of a situation rather than resorting to force.

“Force is not an option that’s accepted. It happens only when all else fails and we wanted to make sure in this inquiry that we put our finger on the things that could be done to improve the ability of police officers to de-escalate rather than having to resort to force, particularly lethal force.”

Parsons said he hopes Barry’s conclusions and recommendations will go a long way to help restore public confidence in policing in the province.

“I hope this report will provide greater clarity for the family of Mr. Dunphy and as well as for the citizens of our province regarding the events of that day. This was a very tragic incident,” Parsons said.

“The fact there are 34 recommendations means that things can be done differently, things can be done better, and the purpose of this was not only to determine the facts of the matter, but figure out ways that we can avoid these situations.”

Five key conclusions of the report:

• The RCMP was correct in its decision not to charge Smyth. Barry said despite some troublesome aspects of Smyth’s testimony, he received no evidence to refute his version of events and there is forensic evidence to support it.

• Smyth demonstrated certain errors of judgment and non-compliance with aspects of his training, but responded with appropriate force when Dunphy suddenly threatened him with a rifle.

• The inquiry received no evidence to support the allegation that the Premier’s Office directed Smyth to go to Dunphy’s house or that Smyth’s visit was politically motivated.


• The tweet in question was not a threat, but still warranted follow-up because of the language used in this tweet and in previous ones.

• The “stick theory” put forth by Meghan Dunphy, that Mr. Dunphy had raised a stick rather than a rifle, had no evidence to corroborate it.

Five key recommendations of the report:

• Better crisis intervention and de-escalation training: Barry said that had Smyth received better training in how to avoid the need to use force, he might have prevented the situation from escalating as it did or he might have been prompted to remove himself from the residence before lethal force was required.


• Better supervision of the protective services unit (PSU): Barry concluded the PSU in April 2015 was acting without proper supervision.
• Better promotion of charter values: ensure police officers engaged in threat assessments are regularly reminded to scrupulously respect the requirement of Section 8 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to protect the sanctity of the home. Entry into private residences without a warrant should occur only with the voluntary and informed consent of the homeowner. Barry found that informed consent requires that the officer properly identify himself or herself, including rank and unit assignment. Smyth did not reveal he was with the PSU before entering Dunphy’s house.
• Better testing of police officer’s version: Barry found the RCMP were too quick to accept Smyth’s version of events in this case.
• Better investigation by a civilian-led oversight agency: Barry noted that the success of civilian-led oversight in the province will depend upon adequate long-term funding. Also, provision must be made for proper annual training.
Meanwhile, earlier on Tuesday, inquiry co-counsel Kate O’Brien was in Newfoundland Supreme Court to tie up one loose end from the inquiry.
O’Brien requested that Donald Dunphy’s sister-in-law, Deborah Dunphy, be held in civil contempt for refusing to testify at the inquiry.
Deborah Dunphy’s lawyer didn’t contest the order, and she was given a $100 fine.

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