Nfld. & Labrador

Joe Smyth used 'appropriate force in self-defence,' says report into Dunphy shooting

Commissioner Leo Barry provided details of the report's findings at Confederation Building on Tuesday afternoon.

RCMP 'too quick' to accept Smyth's version of events: Leo Barry recommends civilian oversight

Justice Leo Barry and Justice Minister Andrew Parsons answer questions about the release of Barry's report Tuesday. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

The report of a judicial inquiry into the 2015 shooting death of Don Dunphy by a Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officer has concluded that the officer used appropriate force.

Inquiry commissioner Leo Barry submitted his report to Andrew Parsons, minister of Justice and Public Safety, on Tuesday morning.

It was posted online a few hours later.

Barry concluded Const. Joe Smyth "demonstrated certain errors of judgment and noncompliance with aspects of his training but responded with appropriate force when Mr. Dunphy with no warning threatened him with a rifle."

Dunphy, 58, an injured worker who lived in Mitchells Brook, St. Mary's Bay, was shot and killed by Smyth on April 5, 2015.

Smyth, 38, testified at the inquiry that he fired at Dunphy four times in self-defence after Dunphy pointed a rifle at him.

​The shooting — on an Easter Sunday — raised questions about why the officer, who was a member of then-premier Paul Davis's security detail, went alone to Dunphy's house and whether he should have gone inside.

Don Dunphy, left, was shot and killed by RNC Const. Joe Smyth on Easter Sunday 2015. The officer had gone to Dunphy's home in St. Mary's Bay to investigate whether social media posts were meant as threats.

Barry concluded there was no evidence to support the allegation that the premier's office directed Smyth to go to Dunphy's home, despite some "far-out hypotheses" voiced by inquiry watchers.

He said a tweet by Dunphy about politicians was not a threat but still warranted followup because of the language used in that, and in previous tweets.

As for errors in judgment by Smyth, Barry said he should not have taken his eyes off Dunphy's hands while he was in the man's home.

'Defects' in RCMP investigation

Dunphy's daughter, Meghan Dunphy, has filed notice of a civil lawsuit against Smyth and the RNC, arguing her father's constitutional rights were violated.

Barry dismissed a theory put forward by Dunphy that her father had raised a stick rather than a gun, saying there was "no evidence to corroborate it."

He did agree that police officers engaged in threat assessments should have the informed consent of a homeowner before entering, and said Smyth did not reveal he was with the premier's security detail before going inside Dunphy's home.

Justice Leo Barry says he dismissed conspiracy theories when considering the evidence presented at the Don Dunphy inquiry. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

Meghan Dunphy's lawyer also argued the RCMP investigation of the shooting was neither thorough nor objective, and said police shootings should be investigated by a civilian agency.

Barry said "the RCMP were too quick to accept [Const.] Smyth's version of events in this case."

He outlined a number of "defects" in the Mounties' investigation, including:

  • Permitting Smyth to meet with RNC colleagues before giving a statement;
  • Agreeing to delay that statement for about 24 hours;
  • "Going too easy" on Smyth during his interview and failing to rigorously challenge his version of events;
  • Failing to maintain an "appropriate degree of suspicion";
  • Supplying Smyth with unnecessary information during and after his interview.

"There may have been some evidence missed in that there was a less than robust investigation … but ultimately I am satisfied that the deficiencies in their investigation did not make their decision [to not lay charges] wrong," Barry told reporters at a news briefing.

However, the public has to have confidence in its police officers, he said, calling for a civilian-led oversight agency to "avoid the appearance of preferential treatment for police officers."

Restoring confidence

"I hope this report will provide greater clarity for the family of Mr. Dunphy … this was a very tragic incident," said Parsons, who added that he met with Meghan Dunphy earlier Tuesday and once again expressed his condolences.

"We are confident matters of public concern have been addressed in a transparent way," he said, calling it a true public inquiry, watched on social media both inside and outside the province. 

The provincial government's priority, Parsons said, is to restore faith in the justice system, but he will take some time to digest the report before deciding next moves.

"There are no simplistic answers," Barry said, adding a key recommendation is for better, more modern training for police officers, where the emphasis is on "de-escalating, defusing a situation, rather than resorting to force … particularly lethal force."

Barry's report, which cost nearly $2.9 million, was delivered earlier than his July 1 target.