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The 7 Top Reasons for a Public Inquiry in the Death of Don Dunphy

To recap briefly: On Easter Sunday April 5th, 2015 a police officer from the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary (RNC) and member of the Premier’s security detail approached Don Dunphy at his home. He said he was investigating a tweet that threatened the Premier and his family. After a brief time in the home Dunphy was dead, shot by the officer.


7 Reasons:

  1. Precedent. There have been 3 previous police shootings of civilians in Newfoundland since 1949. Each one of these resulted in a public judicial inquiry. What’s important about the inquiry is not just assignment of responsibility, criminal or otherwise. It’s also a chance to look at protocols and procedures and see what could be done better, more safely or fairly.

    A good example would be the Braidwood Inquiry in B.C. concerning the taser death of a Polish immigrant. The inquiry as a matter of course made many recommendations for safer more efficacious use of directed energy weapons--tasers and police protocols. The Newfoundland inquiries also made recommendations. One of which is very pertinent to the Dunphy case: it’s that in the case of an officer involved shooting the best practice procedure is to bring in an outside investigative force.

    In roughly the same time frame the RNC brought in the OPP to investigate an RNC officer, Cont. Douglas Snelgrove for sexual assault. It is hard to see how Don Dunphy's case could be less compelling. 

    The Liberal opposition strenuously objected to the Justice Minister for not calling in an outside agency such as the OPP.

  2. Lack of exigent circumstances: There is no evidence that the officer entered Dunphy’s home without permission so the principle of exigent circumstances does not strictly apply but it’s the absolute lack of a compelling reason for any police visit to Dunphy’s home over his tweet or anything else that requires public airing. Refer to section The Story for a fuller explanation of this. Suffice to say Dunphy’s tweet was not threatening. Furthermore, for what possible reason would a police officer go alone, unarmed, in plain clothes, driving the Premier’s unmarked black SUV on a statutory holiday? This calls out for, at the least, inquiry recommendations for better and stricter procedures.

  3. No witnesses: Actually there were two witnesses but one of them was dead and the other was the police officer who shot him. That  stands out from all of the other police shootings, which had witnesses apart from the principals. Despite this, the RCMP reported as fact that Don Dunphy had pointed a rifle at the officer who then shot him. The local media dutifully reported this as fact leaving far too many people with the unexamined assumptions that this was the truth. 

  4. The email: In stark contrast to the total lack of information coming from the RNC and the NL government an email was leaked to the press which claimed to be from the officer who shot Dunphy to his colleagues to explain what a difficult choice he’d had to make that day. He termed shooting Dunphy an “intervention.” Again this is covered in some detail in the trailer to Killed4aTweet but its purpose was obvious. With no evidence whatsoever, including any medical assesment, it painted Don Dunphy as mentally disturbed over his life situation. In fact there is ample evidence that Dunphy, while an activist was in full control of himself and was eminently sane. This was extremely prejudicial. The government made noises about getting to the bottom of who leaked it and why but nothing else has been said as of 7 months later.

  5. Political interference: Prejudicial statements made by the Premier Paul Davis. He stated that he would direct the RCMP investigation but later had to say he’d misspoken. Far worse though was in his press conference the day after the shooting the premier told reporters that he’d called the officer to “offer his support.” He elaborated that he’d known the officer as a colleague and he understood how “difficult is was for him.”  One can only imagine how Don’s daughter, Meghan, must have felt hearing that.

    In the same news conference Premier Davis
    discussed how Dunphy’s tweet threatened him and his family and that he was fearful for their safety. If listeners didn’t know the tweet contained no threats whatsoever to Davis or anyone else they might be persuaded that indeed the officer acted prudently in shooting Don Dunphy.


    1. The RNC is required by regulations in the RNC Act of 1992 to bring in an outside police force to investigate officer involved shootings of civilians. Compounding that is that RCMP policy does not permit it to be the investigating force if they have any prior involvement.

      The RCMP was involved in this case in two significant ways:
      1. RCMP and RNC jointly form the premier's security detail of which the officer was a member.
      2. The RCMP were the first ones on the scene and interacted with the shooter in a significant but as yet unspecified manner. 

      The Liberal and NDP opposition as well as the Dunphy family were vigorously opposed to handing the case to the RCMP. It is confounding as to why the Justice Minister chose not to follow this important precedent, especially in light of the depth of support for it. 

  6. Transparency, timeliness and political interference: The only information released about the Dunphy shooting in over 7 months has been the discredited, leaked email. They even refused to release the name of the officer involved. Twitter did that for them. The officer was Sgt. Joe E. Smyth. The RCMP had stated that they would be releasing their report or decision by August. There are suspicions and more than one source with information that a delay was ordered so that the decision would not be made public before the November 30 Newfoundland-Labrador provincial election.

It’s probable that Andrew Parsons Liberal MHA and justice critic in opposition will become the new Minister of Justice. If it was his decision alone he is powerfully on record as endorsing both a public inquiry and an investigation by an outside police force.

So for all of the above reasons and more there must be a Public Judicial Inquiry into Don Dunphy’s death. Even if the decision to charge or not charge Joe Smyth is widely accepted as fair by the Dunphy family and public there are too many issues left over that would not be dealt with. This decision is important to the credibility of government in Newfoundland-Labrador.


Journalism 101: Report the damn facts!

One could call Don Dunphy the forgotten man for all the NL media covers him. Their excuse is that the "report" isn't out yet. Taking up the slack was Michael Harris in his blog. 

And that brings me to just one slight complaint I have about the Michael Harris article: he didn't name the shooter. If we allow them to dictate what we can say in the news they are controlling the news. There is no legal or precedential reason not to name Sgt. Joe E Smyth. It's an open secret in Newfoundland. I know five people who know and I live in Vancouver. Smyth has been named on Twitter.

Transparency and decency requires he be named. Fairness to the Dunphy family requires he be named. Especially after Sgt. Smyth wrote a self-serving memo in which he said "no regrets" for the shooting and portrayed Don Dunphy as someone so mentally disturbed that it was "too late" for him. The media cave on this gives the wrong people the idea that they can pressure the press to stay quiet on important questions. 

Surf's up. Another Red Tide

Dwight Ball would have to be found to be a serial pedophile 2 days before the election to lose. In fact chances are the Liberals are going to sweep the province. But is that  really a good thing? On the plus side you could argue the "anyone but Davis" meme. On the negative and realistic side you might want to remember that large, powerful majorities don't necessarily mean better government. 

The issue we're concerned with is narrower but vitally important to democratic accountability. Will Ball and the Liberals follow through with a public inquiry into the shooting death of Don Dunphy. An investigation, even a thorough and honest one can't answer all the questions this case gives rise to. We must examine government policies towards its citizens. 

Among other things the Dunphy case is apparently an example of proactive policing or as they like to call it "intelligence led policing." Pretty fancy terminology for profiling and "you're not innocent until proven guilty." 

Yogi the Great famously said "It ain't over 'till it's over."  And it won't be over December 1, it'll just be starting. 

Sure I've got friends. They're on Twitter!

A heartfelt shoutout to some people on Twitter,  @Patondabak @PoliticalPetard @maritimemaggie @CanadianGlen @VyeOne @NicoleRyan76 @DaleJr288 @BradCabana. And many more; you know who you are. We share a passion for justice--sounds corny but whadda ya gonna do? A man was killed for a (ridiculously) misinterpreted tweet. The cops and government in NL tried to make out that he was crazy then they built a stonewall.The media stayed on the other side. But for 7 months you've been tweeting about it and keeping Don Dunphy's memory and the injustice done to him alive. 

You were his Twitter family (most of you) and you meant a lot to him. Some of us came a little later. I saw the story the day after he was killed and began tweeting about it myself. We are stronger than they are and they know it and fear it--if we don't give up. So here's to you--us--we won't forget Don and because we won't, they can't. Live with it bad guys!

Twitter is the Message

RNC Sgt. Joe Smyth with former RNC now Premier Paul Davis on the executive of the RNCA sometime in the past. 

Writing before the digital age in 1964 Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase "the medium is the message." The digital age begat social media and the medium has become the message more fully than even McLuhan could of imagined. Twitter is now a major source of our news, our commentary on the news and we're simultaneously the reporters and consumers of its message. The medium is the message, full stop. 

So as governments everywhere are sticking their fingers in the dyke trying to prevent leaks they're having no more success than the little Dutch boy. It's springing leaks through the medium of Twitter and myriad other social media. 

That's what just happened in the Don Dunphy story. Some people knew, as they always do, who shot Don Dunphy. The government and by abdication the mainstream media tried to put a Berlin Wall around every aspect of the story. They made some cockamammy excuse about protecting the officer and his family (how's that for an Orwellian twist?) Their "investigation" by the RCMP has been ongoing for more than six months without a peep to the public or to Dunphy's family. So while the mainstream media has gone AWOL Twitter has been ... well tweeting and they provided the name of Sgt. Joey (or Joe E) Smyth. And don't for a moment think Twitter is through with the Don Dunphy story either. 

Anonymity & accountability

It is ironic isn't it that the police officer who shot Don Dunphy hasn't been named. It's been over 6 months since that tragic Easter Sunday and we know the barest outline of what happened, not even the shooter's name. Why? The authorities say it's to protect his family--that's the irony, or one of them. Don Dunphy was protecting family members ("I may hurt") by not naming them in the tweet that cost his life. 

And Meghan Dunphy is hurt by things that come from him: his infamous leaked memo and things she hears from people close to him that Don was a "menace to society" and cruel remarks about how he lived. 

But what does he need protection from? Nobody's threatened violence to him or his family. It is in none of our interests individually or as a society that his name and other information is kept from us. It smells of cover-up to put it bluntly. When in all the cases of police involved homicides in Canada has the officer remained unnamed? I can't think of one. 

But people do know who he is. And many know he went on vacation 9 days after killing Don Dunphy, probably out of the country. He posted pictures of the ocean and sunset he was enjoying, apparently unperturbed about taking a man''s life. As he said in his memo, "I cannot regret my actions." 

But we have questions: why was this officer allowed to leave the country after killing a man and before the results of an investigation were concluded? Was he put on administrative leave? Have the RNC concluded he did nothing wrong before the RCMP have finished their investigation? And the biggest question of all: do they ever intend to tell us what happened in Don Dunphy's home on Easter Sunday? Twitter poster @PoliticaPetard says that sources tell him the officer has a "long history of excess force." That possibility alone is reason enough for us to know, and the media to question, his background. 

The local NL media obviously know who he is. After all how big is the Premier's protective detail anyway? So why aren't they telling us? It's not because there is any law against saying. More likely they are afraid to lose their access to government officials. I have news for the news: the age of Harper is over. A democracy requires free and open access to information. Without it we are at best a quasi-democracy. 

This RNC officer in his memo told us the police "know better" than citizen's on social media. Prove it by answering our questions IN PUBLIC.