Dead man's daughter questions officer's version of shooting at N.L. inquiry

The Canadian Press
Published on January 10, 2017

Don Dunphy is shown in this undated image taken from a Facebook tribute page. A public inquiry into the police shooting of Dunphy is scheduled to start on January 9, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Facebook MANDATORY CREDIT

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — The daughter of a Newfoundland man shot in his home by a police officer on Easter Sunday 2015 suggested Monday that he "staged the scene" after killing her dad by mistake.

Meghan Dunphy told an inquiry into Don Dunphy's death that she does not believe he would have raised a rifle to a police officer, as Const. Joe Smyth has said. Her father was never known to hunt or use guns and she had never seen ammunition in the house, she added.

He did, however, have a bat-like stick about a metre long that he kept for protection in case of a break-in, she said. It was always on the right side of the recliner in which he was found dead.

Smyth had gone alone to visit Dunphy about comments on Twitter that the then-premier's press secretary had flagged.

"If Dad had picked up the stick, and (Smyth) thought it was a gun, and then he shot him and afterwards realized, 'Oh my God, this is a stick. I'm going to go to jail.'

"That would be a reason to stage the scene."

Dunphy, 28, also questioned the thoroughness of the RCMP investigation into her father's death. She repeatedly said she felt the Mounties had their minds made up long before officially concluding Smyth used appropriate force and that no charges were warranted.

Smyth is a Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officer who served as a member of then-premier Paul Davis's security detail. He had gone unannounced and in an unmarked police vehicle to Don Dunphy's house in Mitchell's Brook, about 80 kilometres southwest of St. John's.

Smyth has said he fired four shots after Dunphy aimed a .22-calibre rifle at him. The bolt-action rifle that had belonged to Dunphy's late father was found near his body, loaded, but had not been fired. Smyth was the only witness.

Meghan Dunphy, who works for a provincial health authority, said she recalled months earlier seeing the rifle behind the couch but that her father never mentioned having it for protection.

"Why would he change from a stick to a gun at that point?" she asked.

"He never had any disrespect for cops," she told the inquiry. "He could be confrontational and maybe argue with them but he wouldn't do anything to risk his own life."

Smyth sat listening without visible reaction as Dunphy described how her father raised her alone from the age of three after her mother Louise died of heart complications from diabetes.

Her 59-year-old father was in chronic pain since being crushed by heavy machinery on a construction site in 1984. He had battled for years with workers' compensation and often aired his frustrations with the system on social media.

Davis's former press secretary, Donna Ivey, told the inquiry she noticed a string of tweets Dunphy had posted to the former premier's Twitter account two days before he was killed. Dunphy accused Davis and one of his cabinet ministers of ignoring the poor.

"I hope there is a God, I think I (see) him work on two garbage MHAs who laughed at poor (people)," Dunphy tweeted. "Won't mention names this time, 2 prick dead MHAs might have good family members I may hurt."

Ivey confirmed to the inquiry that she emailed only the last tweet, out of context, to Smyth. It was the protective unit's job to assess any threat from such comments, she said.

Ivey's voice shook at times as she described the awful days after the shooting but said she would do the same again.

"I wasn't sure what he was meaning. I'm still confused by it."

Meghan Dunphy spoke through tears Monday as she described her father as a funny, vocal man with a big heart.

Dunphy told the inquiry her father did not have mental health-issues. She said his house was rundown and unkempt because he lived in poverty and in pain.

She also said she had never seen her father foam at the mouth when agitated, as described in Smyth's account of their increasingly heated conversation that day.

Smyth told the RCMP that Dunphy suddenly pulled a .22-calibre rifle from the right side of his chair about 15 minutes into their meeting.

That's when Smyth says he fired a shot at Dunphy's "centre mass" with his pistol, hitting him in the chest and twice in the head as he fled the living room.

An autopsy report said all three shots that hit Dunphy — Smyth fired four times but missed once — would have been fatal. It's believed Dunphy died instantly.

An RCMP timeline says Smyth first called for police and paramedics about 12 minutes after he fired his gun.

Meghan Dunphy said she began doubting the RCMP investigation early on.

She had concerns about damage to her father's reading glasses, found on the living room table after he died. She wondered: "Was there a struggle?"

Yet the police officer who came to collect them at her request did not use an evidence bag, she said.

She also found a single, unspent .22-calibre bullet on the floor near her father's television. But the RCMP investigator showed little interest, saying: "'It has nothing to do with us,'" she told the inquiry.

"If they missed a bullet what else did they miss?"

The province has no independent civilian-led police oversight unit. A review of the RCMP probe by the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team found "minor shortcomings" — such as a lack of police interview notes — but none undermined its conclusions.

The inquiry led by commissioner Leo Barry, a judge on the provincial Court of Appeal, is expected to hear from more than 50 witnesses until early March. Barry will not make findings of criminal or civil responsibility but any new evidence could be investigated by police.

Follow @suebailey on Twitter.

Sue Bailey, The Canadian Press