News / Canada

Troubling questions linger 17 months after police shooting of Don Dunphy

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — It was on the afternoon of Easter Sunday 2015 when Const. Joe Smyth went to Don Dunphy's tree-shrouded home in tiny Mitchell's Brook, N.L.

Smyth, who arrived alone in plain clothes in an unmarked black SUV, was a member of then-premier Paul Davis's security detail.

The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officer made the trip two days after Davis's staff alerted police about social media posts by Dunphy. There was concern they might pose a threat to Davis's family and that of another cabinet minister.

Smyth would later tell the RCMP that Dunphy, a 59-year-old advocate for injured workers, invited him in for a chat.

But it would end about 15 minutes later with Dunphy shot dead — including, says a retired judge who reviewed the pathology reports, a shot at close range to the head.

More than 17 months after that fatal confrontation, questions swirl as police refuse to release reports on the incident and how it was investigated. Concerns raised this week by the retired judge hired by the RCMP to oversee its probe have only fuelled demands for answers.

On open line call-in shows and on social media, people are asking: Why did Smyth go solo to the home of a widowed man so reclusive he had signs in front of his house warning against trespass — especially by government types?

Why did the former premier's staff think Dunphy's comments on Twitter were a threat? Why was it necessary to visit Dunphy on a holiday Sunday?

"The community is just disgusted," said Mayor David Sorensen, who represents Mitchell's Brook, about 80 kilometres southwest of St. John's, where Dunphy died.

"They're fed up with the wait, and the general attitude is: We're never really going to get to the bottom of this because we don't have any witnesses.

"I think everything needs to be out on the table," Sorensen said Thursday of related reviews of police work now being withheld, according to the RCMP, so as not to taint a public inquiry promised in coming months.

"If not, it just looks like they're hiding something."

Smyth did not respond to a request for comment.

The RCMP has reported that he opened lethal fire after Dunphy pointed a rifle at him. It has said no charges are warranted — a decision it says was supported by the civilian-led Alberta Serious Incident Response Team. That report, however, is among those not made public.

The RNC on Wednesday said Saskatoon Police investigators reviewing the Dunphy killing have reported no breach of RNC policies or rules, but there has been no decision on whether to release that report.

"The RNC has seen no evidence of any wrongdoing on the part of our officer and we have confidence in the investigation and review conducted," said a statement by Chief Bill Janes.

The RNC Association, representing non-commissioned ranks, on Thursday called "for full disclosure of all completed reports and evidence related to this matter."

It raised concerns that public confidence in the planned inquiry may have been shaken by "speculative comments made related to the events underlying the investigation."

The statement came after David Riche, a retired provincial Supreme Court justice, gave several media interviews this week on his report — also still under wraps — submitted last January after he oversaw the RCMP's Dunphy probe. The Mounties announced just after Dunphy's death that Riche would have "unfettered" access to their investigation.

It was a gesture meant to ease concerns about one force interrogating another in a province that has no civilian-led oversight team.

"Most of it I was satisfied with," Riche said Thursday of the RCMP's investigation. "But some parts of it, I had problems with.

"I have my views on the thing. It's in my report," he said in an interview. "If somebody eventually gets the nerve to release it, you'll have it all."

Riche said the RCMP did not want him investigating so his role was limited. But he spoke to the pathologist, among others, and reviewed his documents. He said they indicated Dunphy was shot four times, once in the head from about a metre away.

A big question, Riche said, is whether a rifle that the RCMP said was found loaded and lying next to Dunphy's body was even set to fire.

When asked if he thinks charges should be laid, Riche stressed that he's not a prosecutor and would need more information than he was provided to form an opinion.

"I'm looking forward to the inquiry so that all this can be exposed, exactly what happened, and the people involved questioned." 

Riche said the eight months he spent writing his 23-page report "consumed" him last year: "It was one of the most difficult things I ever encountered."

Don Dunphy's only child, his grown daughter Meghan, has raised concerns about the police investigation from early on. She declined through her lawyer Thursday to comment.

But Sorensen said the death of her father was always seen in the community as completely unnecessary.

He said it's especially galling that Smyth, in an email to CBC News earlier this month, described his visit to Dunphy as an effort to "build a rapport."

"It was a helluva social call."

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