The Ambiguous Case of Don Dunphy


Illustration by Jonny May

Early on the morning of April 5th, an unmarked police truck rolled onto Don Dunphy’s Mitchell’s Brook, Newfoundland, property. Out of the truck stepped an officer of Premier Paul Davis’ security detail. The officer was there to see Dunphy, but hadn’t been invited and certainly wasn’t expected.

We won’t ever be sure of what took place at Dunphy’s house that day, but fifteen minutes after they met, Dunphy was shot dead at his home.

The officer, who’s name is being protected, was sent there because of five tweets 59-year old Dunphy sent to MHA Sandy Collins on April 3rd.

Dunphy was ribbing Sandy Collins for listening to the song “The Sun in Your Eyes” by Sherman Downey. Dunphy asked Collins to wake up and hear Newfoundland’s poor senior citizens and injured workers crying out for help.

The tweets are harmless enough but his references to two dead MHA’s who neglected seniors and injured workers were seemingly taken out of context.
___________________________________________________________________________ @SandyRCollins @PremierOfNL @ShermanDowney is that why u can’t c problems of seniors & injured workers,the sun is in your eyes,put #nlpoli — @sculpen

@SandyRCollins @PremierOfNL @ShermanDowney put on sun glasses & take out the ear plugs u might c & hear ppl crying for help,but why #nlpoli — @sculpen

@SandyRCollins @PremierOfNL @ShermanDowney but why would u care after putting in hard time getting that poor mans MHA pension,I hope #nlpoli — @sculpen

@SandyRCollins @PremierOfNL @ShermanDowney I hope there is a God,I think I c him work on two garbage MHAs who laughed at poor ppl #nlpoli — @sculpen

*@SandyRCollins @PremierOfNL @ShermanDowneywon’t mention names this time,2 prick dead MHAs might have good family members I may hurt #nlpoli — @sculpen

* It was the last tweet that Dunphy sent to Sandy Collins that alarmed the authorities.

The tweets aren’t threatening but it’s possible that if Dunphy hadn’t used the words ‘dead,’ ‘hurt’ and ‘family’ in the same sentence, the authorities might not have sent an officer to his house and he might still be alive.

Distrust of police is becoming more pervasive today, and the public outrage following Dunphy’s death rattled through local, national and international news — even a popular Anonymous affiliated twitter account picked up the story.

On the morning of the 6th, Premier Paul Davis promptly took to the podium and seized the opportunity to deny any knowledge of the tweets, the investigation, or the orders given to the officer.

He calmly reassured the public that there was nothing awry, and that having plain-clothed desperadoes roaming about armed and ready is not unusual. The investigation into the shooting is ongoing and new details have all but ceased.

On Thursday, April 9th, dozens gathered to hold candles at a vigil held before Dunphy’s house in Mitchell’s Brook — members of the crowd described Dunphy as a respectful and loved member of their small community.

Their silence and candlelight glow symbolized their solidarity in contrast to the inflammatory and divisive speculation swirling on all sides of the debate.

Once media coverage began wane, the vigil was over, and things calmed down slightly, a letter from the unnamed officer conspicuously rolled onto the CBC news cycle on April 10th. The letter was allegedly sent to other RNC officers, but the timing made it feel more like a press release.

It felt more like an automated message crafted by a PR firm with just a hint of real human expression. It directed more focus on public vigilance with mental health issues instead of addressing the response to, or the circumstances, of the confrontation. Unambiguously, the anonymous officer offers a sentiment to the addressees of the letter: “I cannot regret my actions last Sunday.”

On April 13th, Newfoundland publication The Independent published an examination of the letter by Hans Rollmann. He called the letter “deeply disturbing” and an attempt to shield a violent act with mental illness. Rollmann also raises the questions about police protocol and a moral superiority complex of the police apparent in the tone of the letter.

One issue not mentioned by Rollmann the officer calls the intelligence-based security program “proactive, not reactive,” which is comparable to going to look for threats to investigate, not waiting for them. Investigations grounded in bureaucratic processes, like this security alert, rarely pinpoint the actual cause of the conflict. Because the institutional division of power blurs the lines of authority and responsibility, it becomes difficult for someone low on the chain of command to intervene.

Since the letter’s release, the discourse and debate over Dunphy’s death has rightly been shifting away from what was tweeted and more towards the response and actions taken by the authorities.

In the coming months and weeks, the story and debate will probably change. The ambiguous case of Don Dunphy will fade from the public conscience. Anyone involved will deny responsibility, no one will ever know who gave the order, the investigation’s findings will be insufficient and all while the finger-pointing between both sides of the argument becomes a stalemate.

The fog around the case will naturally lead to speculation about the shooting. The details will never be concrete so unless the government recognizes Dunphy’s case is one of systemic, institutional failure and commit to redressing the issue, Dunphy may have died for nothing.

This article is dedicated to the family & friends of Don Dunphy.

9 thoughts on “The Ambiguous Case of Don Dunphy”

  1. Joey says:

    I believe the name you are looking for is Hans Rollman.

    1. J.H. Burns says:

      You’re absolutely right, thanks for your heads up — edits are made!

  2. theresa says:

    Great article, many questions need answering indeed. Seems like our premier is a liar among other thngs.
    “He didn’t know anything”, We would like to believe that!!! An inquiry needs to take place ASAP

  3. Stitch Face says:

    You mentioned how Dunphy was messaging on twitter and concluded he might not be dead. bad logical jump. you completely missed the most crucial piece of information about the whole issue which is why Dunphy had a loaded rifle next to his body? Its a well written article, don’t get me wrong, but you failed to present the information to the audience in a clear and fair way. Either your bias, or your intentions to ride the coattails of current meta of cop skepticism is evident and this article comes off as being polar in its intentions, and weak in it’s argument. The fact that i’m even considering this article has an argument suggests that you have not objectively given both sides the light of day. This may come off as ruthless criticism but you have to consider your power as a writer as being a tool for overall social justice and not just to push your opinion. TLDR: the facts, show them, be fair

    1. J.H. Burns says:

      Thanks for reaching out Stitch Face, just wanted to address some of your concerns because you took the time to reply and I appreciate that.

      Firstly, I just want to point out that it’s an editorial which is why I allowed some of my opinions to come through, which is why it’s a subjective piece. I chose to avoid speculating on the incident because I know that there will be no proof, beyond reasonable doubt, of what happened at Dunphy’s house the day he died. The only witness is the person who pulled the trigger; I don’t mean to insinuate anything by saying this, but I mean I just felt it was more effective to avoid speculating on the the actual incident by focus more on the process and protocol that sent the officer there.

  4. Edward says:

    Today on the NL provincial news a lady and her friend have to search to find the body of her boyfriend who was reported missing days ago to the RNC & RCMP, who it seems did not do S*#t. /// A few days ago family and friends found the body of a drown lady in Nfld. They carried on the search, underwater after the RCMP with all the resources at their disposal call off the search. /// Mr. Don Dunphy is shot dead after making his remarks about people in need being neglected by the NL gov’t. What the heck is going on in this province? Seems like the Police need a good straightening up or something to do what they are paid to do and do it professionally and efficiently and equally for all citizens of the province. Its kind of shameful of the things we know of. What else what shabby work we don’t know about? Scary really.

  5. Nathan says:

    This article has just as much of an agenda as the Premier’s statements or the letter released by the officer.
    For some unexplicable reason everyone is making a huge deal over the fact that the police officer wasn’t invited to his house or that he wasn’t expecting the officer. Since when are police officers expected to call ahead and advise or ask permission from a subject before going to their residence? I doubt it would have happened in this case but if police had to do that every time they were going to suspect’s house they would be walking into a lot of ambushes of empty houses.
    And neglecting to mention Dunphy’s loaded shotgun at all clearly shows where your bias lays. If you want to present this as a piece of journalism, then presenting all of the facts, not just the ones that fit the narrative you want to tell, would be a good starting point…

  6. Nathan says:

    Or empty houses*
    My mistake…

  7. Joe power jr says:

    Justice for my personal friend is what needs to happen . An officer so trigger happy perhaps the shooting range was the place to go. It’s as simple as this I was a personal friend of Don and had many conversations ,I personally respected Don’s intelligence And in my eyes that’s where trouble began. People such as the official’s involved by no means should be in the positions they hold. My final remarks are these officials will never con me into believing this excuse for an officer was invited into Don’s home.

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