The public is getting its first full look at the dramatic moments leading up to the shooting of Donald Dunphy in his Mitchell’s Brook home on Easter Sunday, 2015. The police reports and reviews of the investigation were all released today by the Commission of Inquiry probing his death.
The initial report reveals some of what we already knew, but fills in some of the gaps, including that a member of the Premier’s Protective Detail fired four shots at Dunphy that day, hitting him once in the abdomen and twice in the head.
A fourth shot missed Dunphy. The report also reveals that Dunphy pointed what turned out to be a loaded 22 caliber rifle at Smyth when their exchange became heated in Dunphy’s living room.
Const. Joe Smyth was cleared of any wrongdoing by the RCMP and subsequent reviews by two other agencies.
THE DETAILS LEADING TO EASTER SUNDAY 2015
Donald Dunphy was crushed between two machines while on the job back in 1984. That’s when his issues with Workers Compensation began.
What followed that was 30 years of what Dunphy called “run arounds” by government and Ministers, the final Minister dealing with Dunphy being then Health Minister Steve Kent.
In 2014, Kent’s office was given permission by Dunphy to act on his behalf to straighten out his dealings with Workers Compensation. It was noted that the issues faced by Dunphy were exceptional, and Dunphy had been promised many things by people in government over the years. That led to the frustration Dunphy expressed frequently on social media.
The tweet that sparked the incident read “Won’t mention names this time two prick dead MHA’s might have good family members I may hurt. #nlpoli”
That tweet was spotted by Donna Ivey, special assistant to the Communications Director with the Office of the Premier. According to Justice David Riche’s review of the incident, she believed the tweet to be threatening and referred it to the Premier’s detail.
Constable Joe Smyth was first made aware of Dunphy’s situation on April 3rd, 2015, just two days before the shooting incident. Smyth looked into Dunphy’s situation and got his address through Dunphy’s Worker’s Compensation file. Smyth did an initial assessment of the situation and determined the threat to his own safety because of Dunphy to be low. On April 5th, Smyth visited Donald Dunphy at his Mitchell’s Brook home.
When Smyth arrived, no one was at Dunphy’s home. He visited Dunphy’s neighbor and brother, Richard Dunphy. After some conversation, Smyth noticed a car in Dunphy’s drive way and discovered he had returned home.
According to the RCMP investigation of the incident, Smyth went to Dunphy’s home and the two began talking. Smyth identified himself as an RNC Officer and began to talk about Dunphy’s Workers Compensation issues. Dunphy then invited Smyth into the living room to continue their chat.
According to Smyth’s own statement after the incident, Dunphy began to get agitated. Dunphy questioned why an RNC Officer was in Mitchell’s Brook, when that was RCMP jurisdiction. When Smyth revealed that he was there to investigate things said on Twitter, Dunphy became more agitated. According to Smyth, Dunphy started swearing and calling Smyth “an arm of the government, a f***in’ puppet.” Smyth said that while Dunphy was agitated, he still didn’t feel threatened by Dunphy, due to the size difference between the two men.
Smyth noted that Dunphy’s home was in a state of squalor, with garbage everywhere. Smyth at one point said to Dunphy “I’ve got real concerns here.” Smyth says the statement was in reference to the state of the home, but he believes Dunphy may have interpreted the statement as Smyth having concerns with Dunphy himself. Dunphy got more, and more agitated.
To this point, no indication had been given to Smyth that there was a firearm in the home. Dunphy’s brother and sister-in-law Richard and Debbie had told Smyth prior to entering Dunphy’s home that he had no firearms at his home. The background check done as part of Smyth’s initial investigation showed no firearm infractions, or indication of gun ownership.
As Donald Dunphy sat in his living room chair, Constable Joe Smyth leaned against a mantle, reviewing files he had brought with him relating to the so-called threatening tweets. Smyth says while he was looking at his documents, he noticed the barrel of a rifle out of the corner of his eye coming from the right side of Dunphy’s chair. Smyth noted the barrel and the bolt. Smyth says everything from that point was instinct. Smyth raised his left hand in the air and withdrew his service pistol with his right hand.
Four shots rang out in Dunphy’s living room. Smyth ran towards the doorway to the home, firing two shots toward Dunphy. Smyth says he believes that while he was moving, the barrel of the rifle followed him. Smyth fired twice more.
Two bullets hit Dunphy’s head, one his abdomen, and a fourth missed. It’s believed Dunphy died instantly. He was 59 years old.
In Smyth’s statement, he says he estimates less than a second passed from when he spotted Dunphy’s rifle to when the last shot was fired. The RCMP investigation showed that Dunphy’s rifle was loaded, with a round in the chamber as it was aimed at Constable Smyth.
Smyth searched the home for additional occupants and found none. After 15 minutes, he called the RCMP to respond to the incident.
The RCMP investigation found that Constable Smyth acted appropriately in the situation, using the appropriate amount of force needed to defend his life. The RCMP concluded that there was no evidence to support any criminal charges against Smyth in relation to the incident.
“Smyth was not prepared for what he was going to meet”: Riche Report
Retired Supreme Court Justice David Riche also reviewed the RCMP report into Dunphy’s shooting. He was hired as an independent observer.
Riche concluded in his report that there were a series of mistakes and feels “the killing should probably have never happened.”
Riche, who made five conclusions said if Smyth had taken another officer with him, then we would have a complete picture of what happened and not have to rely just on what Smyth said. He went on to ask why, if the tweet was seen as a threat, Smyth didn’t just arrest Dunphy and why he went there on Easter Sunday.
Riche also asked why police didn’t ask Dunphy to come to the RCMP office to discuss the tweet in question. He also noted that Smyth could have visited Dunphy’s daughter Meghan on the way down, but did not.
In his final point, Riche stated: “I believe that the confrontation between Smyth and Dunphy during that 15 minute period when Smyth was in that room is what caused the issue of guns being brought into play. Smyth was not prepared for what he was going to meet.”
RNC Chief says Criticism of Smyth Unwarranted
RNC Chief Bill Janes says Constable Joe Smyth has his full support and calls criticism that has followed Smyth since Don Dunphy was is unwarranted.
Janes says first and foremost, the RNC continues to express sympathies to the Dunphy Family.
Janes says Constable Smyth, who today works in traffic patrol, has been an exemplary member of the police force for many years.
He says during the last 15 years, Smyth has succeeded in many difficult work assignments. He says Smyth is a respected police officer who has given quality service to the community.
Chief Janes says no policies were changed in the immediate aftermath of the incident. He says the RNC did do a review of their policies and procedures immediately following the incident. He says the RNC looks forward to any recommendations that come from the Barry Inquiry and will do their best to make any changes required.
He says when it comes to policy, legislation, or training, those things are constantly changing. He says the Inquiry may have recommendations that he will follow up on.
Anonymous Letter Unsubstantiated
RCMP say the contents of an anonymous letter obtained by the Commission of Inquiry into the death of Donald Dunphy were unsubstantiated.
The RCMP were informed of the anonymous letter on the evening of Monday, November 7th and launched an investigation.
The letter forced a temporary delay in the public release of a series of reports into Dunphy’s death.
The police investigative report regarding the letter is being finalized and will be reviewed by the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team, and provided to the Commission of Inquiry.
A timeline for ASIRTS review is not available at this time.