The Ambiguous Case of Don Dunphy

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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
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* 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.

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