A man shot at by police in a parking lot on Memorial University's St. John's campus has been found guilty of dangerous driving — but not for the more serious charges of assaulting four police officers.
Instead, Judge Lois Skanes concluded it was the police who used excessive force by shooting at Justin Chipman, saying the gunplay was over the top.
Chipman, 27, was the target of a Royal Newfoundland Constabulary stakeout in the parking lot of MUN's Field House on the night of Feb. 18.
They were trying put the brakes on a rash of vehicle break-ins in the area with a surveillance sting they dubbed Operation Hoodwink.
According to the facts, Chipman drove into the lot in a stolen SUV, broke the window of another vehicle and stole the laptop inside. When police moved in, he tried to speed away but got stuck in a snowbank.
Officers converged on both sides of the SUV, trying to open the doors and ordering Chipman and a passenger to get out. Instead, Chipman continued to spin the tires, trying to escape.
That's when RNC Const. Dustin Spurrell fired a shot through the driver-side window, with the bullet grazing Chipman's chest. Spurrell testified he fired because he feared for his safety and that of his fellow officers, and that he aimed to kill, but missed.
On Friday, Judge Skanes agreed with Chipman's lawyer that Spurrell used excessive force, also ruling that Chipman was only trying to get away rather than attempting to run down the officers.
She threw out the eight charges of assaulting police officers, but convicted Chipman of dangerous driving, saying he should have surrendered rather than recklessly trying to escape.
Skanes also dismissed a defence application to have all charges dropped, but hinted she might consider a lesser sentence given the excessive forced used by police.
Chipman has already been convicted of theft in the case.
He will be sentenced for dangerous driving on Sept. 2.