Nfld. & Labrador

RNC officer Joe Smyth charged with obstruction of justice

Joe Smyth, the focus of a judicial inquiry into the fatal shooting of Don Dunphy, is charged over the handling of an unrelated traffic stop last year.

Charge relates to Smyth's involvement in a traffic stop

Const. Joe Smyth pictured here testifying at the Dunphy Inquiry in St. John's. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officer Joe Smyth, the focus of a judicial inquiry into why he fatally shot injured worker Don Dunphy, has been charged with obstructing justice over how he allegedly handled an unrelated traffic stop last year. 

Smyth, a constable, has been suspended without pay until further notice, according to Chief Joe Boland. 

The charge was announced Wednesday, following an investigation by the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT).

Smyth, who was cleared of wrongdoing in Dunphy's 2015 shooting death,was being investigated for his actions after a traffic stop on May 12, 2017.

According to an ASIRT statement, the stop resulted in a person being ticketed "for an offence that did not occur. The violation ticket and other related tickets were ultimately withdrawn by the Crown."

Smyth is scheduled to appear in provincial court in St. John's on Aug. 23. 

'He fully intends to fight'

Jerome Kennedy, Smyth's lawyer, said his client is "obviously disappointed," adding that he intends to fight the charge.

"We'd be ready to go trial on this tomorrow — that's how firmly I believe that the evidence that ASIRT has uncovered does not, or will not, support the charge that's been laid," Kennedy told CBC News Wednesday. 

Kennedy believes there are other factors for why Smyth has been charged. 

"The residual effect of the inquiry [into the death of Don Dunphy] and I believe that the fact of who he is certainly plays into what's going on here," he said. 

Jerome Kennedy, representing Smyth, says he is confident his client will be exonerated. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

"One of the problems with any investigation or when a charge is laid, the presumption of innocence goes out the door."

Kennedy added that while the charge of obstructing justice is a serious one, "the circumstances leading to the charge involve the issuance of a traffic ticket."

"We are confident at the end of the day he will exonerated," he said.

Misconduct 'not acceptable,' chief says

Moments after ASIRT announced the charge, Boland issued his own statement.

Joe Boland, chief of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, says Smyth has been suspended without pay until further notice. (CBC)

"I want to assure the public that misconduct by any RNC police officer is not acceptable and will not be tolerated within this police service," said Boland.

"I will continue to hold any officer who does not represent our values accountable for their actions."

Traffic stop timeline

In October 2017, the RNC was contacted by the Crown attorneys' office in St. John's regarding an issue with a traffic safety stop that involved Smyth, according to Boland. 

No public or criminal complaint had been made at the time, but "based on the evidence that was provided to the RNC as well as the circumstances and seriousness of the allegations against the officer," Boland asked the Justice Department to get an outside agency to investigate the incident. 

Susan Hughson, ASIRT executive director, says the evidence 'provided reasonable grounds to believe that an offence(s) had been committed' regarding the traffic stop incident. (CBC)

It was referred to ASIRT in November, and Smyth was placed on administrative duty at that time. That same month, the RNC also received a public complaint against Smyth from the person involved in the traffic stop. 

No specific details on the traffic stop incident were immediately available. 

Dunphy shooting

A judicial inquiry into Dunphy's death concluded that Smyth used appropriate force

Inquiry commissioner Leo Barry concluded 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."

Don Dunphy, seen speaking with CBC News during a 2011 interview, was shot to death in his home in April 2015. (CBC)

Smyth, a member of then-premier Paul Davis's security detail, shot and killed Dunphy, 58, an injured worker who had lived in Mitchells Brook, St. Mary's Bay, on April 5, 2015.

He said he went to Dunphy's home after Dunphy posted a series of tweets, with at least one in particular catching the attention of government officials: 

"@SandyRCollins @PremierOfNL @ShermanDowney won't mention names this time. 2 prick dead MHAs might have good family members I may hurt #nlpoli"

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

Smyth told the inquiry that Dunphy allowed him to come inside his home but became agitated during their conversation.

He said Dunphy accused him of being "a f--king puppet" and that "government is the reason I'm living this way." 

​The shooting — on an Easter Sunday — raised questions about why Smyth had gone to Dunphy's house alone and whether he should have gone inside.​​

With files from Mark Quinn