Nfld. & Labrador

Dunphy inquiry hears evidence on questionable actions early in Joe Smyth's career

Const. Joe Smyth, the police officer who killed Don Dunphy, testified Monday that he filed three use-of-force reports during a six-month period in 2007.

Const. Joe Smyth shot Don Dunphy in his Mitchells Brook home while investigating Dunphy's tweets

Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officer Joe Smyth arrives Monday at the Commission of Inquiry into the Death of Don Dunphy. (Paul Daly/The Canadian Press )

Const. Joe Smyth, the police officer who killed Don Dunphy in April 2015, testified Monday that he filed three use-of-force reports during a six-month period in 2007 when he was with a police patrol unit in St. John's.

Smyth began testimony Monday at a judicial inquiry in St. John's that is hearing evidence about how Smyth, a Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officer, shot Dunphy to death in his Mitchells Brook home while investigating a post Dunphy had made to Twitter.

Smyth said he has drawn his gun about six times during his career with the RNC.

In two incidents in 2007, Smyth drew his gun, including an incident when he responded to a mental health call. He said a man pointed a shotgun at him, but lowered the weapon when Smyth kneeled and drew his gun. On the other occasion, he said, he responded to an armed robbery where a man was using a syringe as a weapon.

In the third 2007 use-of-force incident, while responding to a call, Smyth reportedly hit a man who was not responding.

Commission counsel Sandra Chaytor said Smyth continued to hit the man until it was learned the man was hearing impaired.

Smyth, who began his police career in 2000, said pulling a weapon about six times during that period is not an unusually high number of times for an officer in the positions he has held.

Smyth arrested in 2005 on vacation

Meanwhile, the inquiry was told that Smyth was disciplined by the RNC in 2005 for behaviour unbecoming a police officer.

Smyth was convicted of damaging property while on vacation in the British Virgin Islands.

In Smyth's words, he was "very intoxicated" when it happened. Smyth said he threw a flower pot and wood at an empty school bus after he was robbed at knife point by two men but he disagreed with a report that said he damaged four cars.
Const. Joe Smyth testifies Monday at the inquiry into the death of Don Dunphy. (CBC )

After Chaytor pressed him on the details of the incident, Smyth said too much attention was given to discipline when he has "a myriad" of commendations that should get similar attention.

Aside for commendations for his work on specific investigations, Smyth also received a life-saving award for helping a person who was choking.

Shooting nightmares, stress leave

On Monday, Smyth didn't describe what happened in Dunphy's home that Easter Sunday, but he was asked by commission counsel, Sandra Chaytor, how his career changed after the shooting.

In the days following Dunphy's death, Smyth moved to the RNC criminal investigation unit. Then weeks later, he was assigned to carry out administrative duties. He stayed in that position until November 2015.

"I took time off work. At that point I had been at work for a number of months and I hadn't really, from my perspective, done anything meaningful and [it] was also at that stage the subject of a lot of vitriol social media commentary that was becoming increasingly challenging to be exposed to," said Smyth.

Joe has been having dreams of getting shot himself.- Lisa Smyth

Chaytor asked was that what's sometimes referred to as a stress leave or mental health leave.

"I think that would be safe to say, yes," he responded.

Smyth's spouse, Lisa, attended the inquiry Monday.

Interviewed by the RCMP after the shooting, she told them that 'Joe has been having dreams of getting shot himself, of the situation going differently and that he told her he could feel getting shot.'

Smyth testimony delayed

Smyth's testimony began Monday after delays related to weather and a newly-revealed request to test evidence by lawyers representing Dunphy's daughter. 

Proceedings were also delayed by an overnight snowstorm that dumped more than 20 cm of snow on St. John's streets. 

But before Smyth could be called to testify, Justice Leo Barry noted that Meghan Dunphy's lawyers want to call an expert in biomechanics as a witness at the inquiry.

Dunphy's lawyers want the expert to test the idea that Don Dunphy, who had chronic injuries due to a workplace accident in 1984, was able to lift a rifle from the side of a chair he was sitting in. Smyth told RCMP he shot Dunphy after seeing him point a rifle at him.

Don Dunphy, 59, was fatally shot in his home in Mitchells Brook, about 100 kilometres southwest of St. John's. (CBC)

Jerome Kennedy, who represents Smyth, said he fears the inquiry is "going down a blind alley" and risks becoming an adversarial trial not an inquiry into what happened.

Kennedy said he will want to bring in an expert to counter the biomechanics expert if Barry agrees to allow the expert.

Lawyer Nick Avis, representing the RNC, was skeptical of the request.

"That argument just cost the province $10,000," he told reporters, referring to the billings of the various lawyers working at the inquiry.  

What Smyth told police

Smyth travelled to Dunphy's home in Mitchells Brook on Easter Sunday in 2015 to speak with Dunphy about his social media posts on Twitter.

Dunphy posted tweets critical of then-premier Paul Davis and other provincial politicians. Donna Ivey, a communications official in Davis's office, forwarded one of those tweets to Smyth. 

A report by the RCMP reported that Smyth said he spoke with Dunphy in his living room but Smyth said their conversation became tense with Dunphy calling Smyth "a government puppet."

Meghan Dunphy was the first person to take the stand Monday at the inquiry into the shooting death of Don Dunphy. (CBC)

Smyth told police he shot at Dunphy after Dunphy raised a rifle from the right side of the chair he was sitting in.

The RCMP concluded no charges were warranted against Smyth.

Dunphy's daugther testified

Don Dunphy's daughter told a judicial inquiry a week ago that she doesn't believe the police officer who fatally shot her father is telling the truth about what happened at her father's home.

Meghan Dunphy is suggesting her father reached for a stick that he often carried for protection, and that Smyth mistook it for a gun and then shot him.

Follow the testimony in our live blog.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Quinn

CBC News

Mark Quinn is a videojournalist with CBC's bureau in St. John's.

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