Staff Sergeant Shawn Harrison of the Thunder Bay Police Department admitted that he made a error in not meeting Brad DeBungee during the investigation into the death of the latter's brother. (Archives)
More than a month after their disciplinary hearing was completed, one of two Thunder Bay Police Service (TBPS) officers involved in the investigation into the 2015 death of Stacy DeBungee has been found guilty.
In a decision released Tuesday, Adjudicator Greg Walton found that Master Sergeant Shawn Harrison demonstrated unconscious bias, which prevented him from handling the investigation into the death of Stacy DeBungee fairly and without discrimination in policing as he is Indigenous.
This man's body was found in the McIntyre River on the morning of October 15 2015.
Mr. Harrison was convicted of dereliction of duty and dishonorable conduct under the Police Services Act. He had pleaded guilty to the first charge in May, acknowledging that he should have contacted private investigator David Perry, who had relevant information.
“It took me a nanosecond to realize that the investigation into the death of Stacy DeBungee was totally inadequate, full of bias and, therefore, deserved attention and reopening.
—David Perry, Private Investigator
During his research, Mr. Perry discovered that Mr. DeBungee's bank card had been used shortly after his death. He had attempted to relay this information to the Thunder Bay police. He had even gone to the police station accompanied by Stacy DeBungee's brother, Brad DeBungee, but Mr. Harrison, who was absent, never attempted to contact him afterwards.
For his part, Sergeant Shawn Whipple, who faced the same charges, was found not guilty.
The adjudicator specifies that the Sergeant Whipple did not have the responsibilities necessary for his conduct to be deemed undignified.
Just hours after the discovery of Stacy DeBungee's body, TBPS issued a press release indicating that his death was not considered suspicious.
The day after the discovery of the victim's body, before an autopsy was carried out, the SPTB had said that the death did not appear to be of criminal origin. During the hearings, Mr. Harrison said he did not know who authorized the release of the second press release.
During his testimony, Mr. Perry emphasized that Stacy DeBungee's death should have been treated as suspicious. According to him, it is always prudent for an investigator not to assume and treat an individual's death as suspicious until there is evidence to rule out the possibility, said Adjudicator Greg Walton. /p>
A new investigation into the death of Stacy DeBungee is ongoing.
< p class="e-p">However, he concludes that although Staff Sergeant Harrison claimed to have treated the matter as suspicious, his investigation should have reflected his position.
He instead chose not to treat Stacy DeBungee's death as a possible murder, he failed to take steps to fully investigate her sudden death. This is a breach of duty, the adjudicator said.
According to him, the evidence demonstrates that the extent of his negligence goes far beyond a simple performance issue.
A report from the Office of the Director of February 2018 Independent Police Review (IPRO), titled A Betrayed Trust, highlighted a series of shortcomings in the police's initial investigation, including the failure of officers to follow up with witnesses and to investigate any evidence. other leads, including an alleged confession from a person who claimed on his deathbed to have pushed Mr. DeBungee into the river.
During his time at the police with the victim's brother, Brad DeBungee, David Perry soon saw how Aboriginal people in Thunder Bay are treated in the community.
“ I knew what I was seeing, even though I had never seen this before. And it changed my life forever. I began to perceive my former profession differently. »
— David Perry, Private Investigator
It would be fair to say I was shocked and horrified, says the private investigator, who was once a police officer.
Mr. Perry believes there is a problem at Thunder Bay that is much bigger than this particular case.
It would take the involvement of the whole community and perhaps even the government to bring about the changes needed to build trust between TBPS and the indigenous peoples of the region, he believes.
“There are a lot of changes that need to happen [in Thunder Bay]. This decision is the first step. ”
— David Perry, Private Investigator
In the past, certain TBPS officers who have been found guilty in similar cases, where there has been a dereliction of duty, had to receive training. While Mr. Perry believes training on racism and discrimination isn't enough, it's a good start.
In his view, either dismantle TBPS or clean up the mess by appointing knowledgeable, competent and culturally sensitive people to the top of the organizational chart to get the police force out of the mess it finds itself in.
The pain of the Staff Sergeant Harrison will be determined at a hearing in September.
With information from Aya Dufour