Nfld. & Labrador

Thief sues after RNC officer shoots during sting operation, province settles

Justin Chipman sued the province over incident that occurred in 2014, saying his charter rights had been breached and the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary used “excessive force.”

Justin Chipman caught stealing from vehicles at MUN Field House during Operation Hoodwink in 2014

Justin Chipman sued the Newfoundland and Labrador government for "unjustified, excessive force" in relation to an incident that saw police officers attempt to arrest him on the Memorial University Field House parking lot in February 2014.

The Newfoundland and Labrador government has settled a lawsuit filed by a thief who was shot at by police after being caught in a 2014 sting operation aimed at stopping car break-ins.

Justin Chipman alleged in court filings a Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officer used "excessive force" when he struck Chipman's vehicle with his police car, then shot at him.

The bullet grazed Chipman's chest and elbow. He was not seriously injured.

The incident occurred on the parking lot of the Memorial University Field House in St. John's on Feb. 18, 2014.

According to the judge's decision in his criminal case, Chipman was driving a stolen SUV that evening when police saw him break the window of a parked car and steal a laptop and camera.

The RNC had placed bait cars in the area as part of an initiative called Operation Hoodwink, aimed at tackling thefts from vehicles on the northeast Avalon.

The incident occurred on Feb. 18, 2014, in the parking lot of the Memorial University Field House. (CBC)

When police confronted Chipman, he tried to get away but his SUV got stuck in a snowbank.

Chipman ignored police orders to stop his efforts to free the vehicle, and continued to spin the tires in an effort to move the SUV.

RNC Const. Dustin Spurrell fired one shot through the driver's window.

The SUV managed to leave the lot, but Chipman was arrested at a residence in St. John's later that evening.

Judge rules charter rights infringed upon

Chipman pleaded guilty to theft and possession of stolen goods.

He was ultimately convicted of dangerous driving, but eight charges of assaulting a police officer were tossed by a provincial court judge.

Judge Lois Skanes ruled that Chipman's charter rights to life, liberty and security of the person were infringed upon.

In her decision, Skanes noted that the level of force used by Spurrell was not justified, and put lives at risk.

A subsequent RCMP investigation of the incident concluded that Spurrell acted properly.

Lawsuit discontinued in November 2016

Chipman filed a civil suit in July 2015, seeking an unspecified amount in damages.

His statement of claim stressed that the Crown did not appeal the judge's decision.

It notes: "The plaintiff … states that he was treated by Const. Spurrell with unjustified, excessive force, including lethal force by shooting him in the chest, and that this constitutes a deliberate and flagrant breach" of Chipman's charter rights, as well as negligence.

Const. Dustin Spurrell shot and wounded Justin Chipman during a sting operation outside the Memorial University Field House in February 2014. (CBC)

The lawsuit was discontinued in November 2016, according to a document filed at Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court in St. John's.

There was no statement of defence in the court file.

It's not clear how much money may have been involved in settling the matter. 

In an emailed statement, the Department of Justice said it is unable to confirm the amount of the settlement at this time, as it may involve the release of personal information. 

Chipman's lawyer, Ken Mahoney, did not respond to a message from CBC News.

But according to an order-in-council posted on the government's website, the provincial cabinet approved transferring a total of $260,000 from a contingency reserve fund to settle the Chipman lawsuit and a second, unrelated, matter.

That cabinet order has no breakdown of the settlement amount for each case.

About the Author

Rob Antle

CBC News

Rob Antle is producer for CBC's investigative unit in Newfoundland and Labrador.