Nfld. & Labrador

4 new things we learned about the Don Dunphy case

What happened, and why? Those are the two big questions still looming over a high-profile police shooting in Newfoundland and Labrador that's sparked an impending public inquiry.

Retired justice David Riche offers insight into killing of injured worker

Don Dunphy, 59, was shot and killed at his home on Easter Sunday 2015 by RNC officer, Const. Joe Smyth. (CBC)

What happened, and why? Those are the two big questions still looming over a high-profile police shooting in Newfoundland and Labrador that's sparked an impending public inquiry.

Don Dunphy, 59, was shot and killed by Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officer Joe Smyth on April 5, 2015.

The shooting in the tiny community of Mitchells Brook set off a firestorm of questions and controversy from friends and supporters of Dunphy as well as the public. 

Former justice David Riche says he was asked to file a report on the RCMP investigation into the shooting death of Don Dunphy. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

The RCMP concluded there will be no charges against now-acting Sgt. Symth. And an investigation into the handling of the Dunphy case, by the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team — or ASIRT — found the RCMP's investigation was "thorough, complete and unbiased." The Saskatoon Police Service found, according to the RNC, no wrongdoing on the part of Smyth and the force.

The last [shot] ... I wonder about all of them ... were they needed?- Retired justice David Riche

None of those reports have been released publicly, citing fear of hampering the upcoming public inquiry.  

That didn't stop former justice David Riche, who acted as an independent observer, from providing new details and insight into what happened that day.

Here's what we learned from conversations with him. 

1. Four shots fired

Riche said Dunphy was shot four times in his home, at close range. "I'm talking about three of four feet," Riche told the CBC's Carolyn Stokes Tuesday.

"His last bit of shooting was near the victim's head," Riche said.

The number of shots fired, Riche said, was a concern as it showed there was "an intention to kill."

"There wasn't an intent to stop, intention to wound. There was no indication of shots being fired back at him. The last shot was so close that you say to yourself, why?"

"The last [shot] ... I wonder about all of them ... were they needed?"

A group of people gathered outside Don Dunphy's home in Mitchells Brook in St. Mary's Bay in the days after the man's death to hold a candlelight vigil. (CBC)

2. Angry men

From Riche's perspective, the altercation was between "two angry men."

Through Riche's own sources, he said, he was told Dunphy was mad, having been fighting with government for decades as an injured worker.

As for Smyth, Riche said "there was an incident one time when [Smyth] got into difficulties himself. He could be aggressive ... that was my impression, that this was a man who could be aggressive.

3. 15 minutes

According to Riche, 15 minutes passed from the time Smyth walked into Dunphy's home to the moment four shots rang out in the St. Mary's Bay community. It took 20 minutes, Riche said, for the RCMP to respond.

Riche said Smyth was speaking to Dunphy when "something happened which caused Smyth concern. He drew his weapon and fired shots."

Don Dunphy, 59, was fatally shot in the small community of Mitchells Brook on Easter Sunday. (CBC)

4. Gun not cocked

While Riche could not say if Dunphy's gun was loaded, the former justice said the gun was not cocked.

"I don't think it could have been fired as it was, unless you did something. You need to close the action," he said.

Riche was not allowed to interview witnesses or Smyth. He did, however, speak with Dunphy's daughter, Meghan Dunphy. 

As Riche pointed out, "dead men tell no tales." And the only other person there that day hasn't answered outstanding questions, which may be part of a promised public inquiry. 

About the Author

Ariana Kelland is a reporter with the CBC Newfoundland and Labrador bureau in St. John's.

With files from Carolyn Stokes and Garrett Barry