NEWS
02/24/2017 10:57 EST | Updated 02/25/2018 00:12 EST

Former N.L. premier says he should not have called officer in police shooting

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — A former premier admits he was wrong to contact a member of his security detail who killed a man, calling it a well-intentioned but mistaken show of concern.

Paul Davis told the inquiry into Don Dunphy's death Friday that he called Const. Joe Smyth of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary in the hours after the shooting on Easter Sunday 2015. 

"I realized Joe Smyth was likely having the worst day of his life," he said.

"I just felt from a human perspective that it would be right to reach out to him and let him know I was thinking about him."

Davis, a former RNC officer before he entered politics in 2010, said Smyth was always a calm and professional colleague but was not a personal friend. He said the phone call was brief and they did not discuss the shooting in detail.

Davis recalled that Smyth told him he did what he had to do.

The former premier did not call the Dunphy family but offered his condolences publicly the following day.

Smyth has testified he shot Dunphy, 59, once in the chest and twice in the head when he suddenly aimed a rifle at him from the side of his recliner.

Smyth had gone alone to Dunphy's home in Mitchell's Brook after staff in Davis's office flagged a single post on Twitter that was deemed "of concern." 

Smyth is the only witness to the deadly confrontation in RCMP jurisdiction. The Mounties found it was reasonable use of force and laid no charges. 

"It was a definite shock to me," Davis testified, recalling how he learned that Sunday afternoon of the shooting from his then-chief of staff, Joe Browne, the former chief of the RNC. Davis said disturbing speculation took off on social media.

"Very quickly there were accusations publicly of me being behind this," including suggestions he'd ordered Dunphy's "assassination," he said. Davis told reporters the next day about his call to Smyth, which he said stirred that public speculation and complicated matters.

Dunphy was an injured worker who aired his disgust with workers' compensation on call-in radio shows and social media. He had sent the tweet as part of a longer string of comments just over two days before he died.

They 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."

Smyth has testified that although the tweets when read in context weren't threatening, he went to Dunphy's home to ask what he meant.

Davis told the inquiry Friday that he's not sure what Dunphy intended but was careful after the shooting not to describe his remarks as "threats."

He also said it was important to follow up on them, but that he had no knowledge of Dunphy, the tweets or Smyth's visit to Dunphy until after the deadly encounter.

Dunphy's only child, his grown daughter Meghan, has testified along with family friends that her father was never a violent man. They have said he was never known to use guns.

He did, however, have a metre-long wooden stick that he always kept by the right side of his recliner in case of a break-in. Dunphy was licensed to grow marijuana for medical use. His only criminal record dated back more than a decade for possession and production of pot.

Meghan Dunphy has suggested that if her father raised anything at Smyth, it might have been that stick. She told the inquiry she believes Smyth may have mistakenly shot her father, then panicked and staged the scene.

Smyth has called the theory "outlandish."

Earlier Friday, an RCMP officer agreed there were numerous errors made when the Mounties questioned Smyth.

Sgt. Monty Henstridge testified those mistakes included giving him details about the scene that should not have been shared.

As Smyth gave his statement to the RCMP the day after the shooting, Henstridge confirmed for him that the rifle found at Dunphy's feet was loaded. He also told him: "You saved your life."

Henstridge said Friday he empathized with Smyth as a fellow police officer, and that may have clouded his common sense.

Henstridge said he had an "emotional response" after seeing the death scene but that did not undermine his objectivity as an investigator.

Henstridge said he also empathized with the Dunphy family.

"I put myself in a lot of people's shoes in that room."

Henstridge said the sight of Dunphy's body sitting in his recliner made him think of his own father.

"I was looking at a gentleman whose life had ended," Henstridge said.

"It was tragic."

The inquiry is hearing from more than 50 witnesses into March. Commissioner Leo Barry is to report and make any recommendations by July 1 but will not make findings of criminal or civil responsibility.

Any new evidence could be investigated by police.

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