Question Number 1: Who has been trying to spin the story by feeding both David Cochrane and Fred Hutton with confidential information?
The standard police position is to withhold all information about officer-involved shootings as part of the investigation.
That’s the position Royal Newfoundland Constabulary chief Bill Janes took at his news conference on Monday morning about the death of Donny Dunphy.
Yet, both VOCM and CBC reported information on Sunday evening and early Monday morning about the fatal police shooting in a rural community that could have only come from either very highly placed political sources or police officers very close to the incident and the investigation.
Here’s the first line from Cochrane’s first story:
CBC News has learned that an officer of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, who was at the scene of the fatal shooting on Sunday in Mitchells Brook, NL, was there to investigate an alleged threat against Premier Paul Davis.
Other reports indicated that the officer shot Dunphy after Dunphy produced a “long gun” on the lone police officer there.
All those details could only have come from the officer who shot Dunphy, someone else who was on the scene at the time of the shooting, one of the investigating officers, or a senior political staffer who had been briefed on the incident by police.
Who has been leaking information?
Question Number 2: why did they torque the story?
That’s even more obvious when you consider that the initial version fed to Hutton and Cochrane didn’t hold up to scrutiny.
Both Cochrane and Hutton used the single tweet that mentioned “prick dead MHAs.” VOCM even provided it in a single image (above) linked to a comment by cabinet minister Sandy Collins. While Dunphy’s comments came in response to Collins; tweet about the Premier, the VOCM image left out all the important context.
One reason might be because the “threat” thesis seems to justify the shooting. It’s also been a persistent theme. The “threat” angle survived through the day as an integral part of the story. It’s been widely reported and Conservative activists are picking it up nationally as a justification for the shooting.
For the record, though, here’s the whole string of comments Dunphy made. Remember: you have to read them from the bottom up.
“…but why would you care,” Dunphy wrote, “after putting in hard time getting that poor man’s MHA pension. I hope…I hope there is a God. I think I c [see] him work on two garbage MHAs who laughed at poor ppl [people]. he got them before they got to enjoy the pension they didn’t deserve. I won’t mention names this time. 2[ Two] prick [,] dead MHAs might have good family members who I may hurt.”
Dunphy appears to talking about two members of the House of Assembly who are dead already and who didn’t get to enjoy their pensions. You can read that strange wording “prick dead” a number of ways. It could be prick-dead, as in limp-dicked or impotent people. It could be, as rendered above, two words that should have been separated by a comma.
The earlier comment is unmistakeable, though. God got the two MHAs before they got to enjoy their pensions. And it’s that context that makes the idea of the last comment as a threat against Collins and Davis to be extremely doubtful. The whole context of the comment doesn’t look like a threat at all.
Question Number 3: Why is one force in a joint force unit investigating the other force?
Premier Paul Davis correctly identified the protective detail as a joint force police unit. That means it consists of both Royal Newfoundland Constabulary and Royal Canadian Mounted Police members. They provide security for the Premier, cabinet ministers, the prime minister, federal ministers, judges, and visiting dignitaries as needed.
They are NOT the “Premier’s personal security detail”: although they have called that several times in media reports.
On that basis, it seems inappropriate for members of one force in the province to investigate the officer or officers or the other force in the unit who are involved in the shooting.
Question Number 4: Why is Premier Davis doing media interviews?
In his scrum, Premier Davis claimed he knew nothing of the incident until after the shooting.
Yet when asked about the tweets, Davis endorsed the assessment that the tweet was a threat aimed at him. He implicitly justified the police investigation because everyone has a right to feel safe. When David Cochrane questioned Davis about that interpretation in light of the wider context, Davis begged off claiming the question was one for the police to assess based on facts. Asked whether he felt threatened by the tweet, Davis said he knew nothing of it until after the incident until Sunday.
Asked by Fred Hutton if Davis had spoken with the officer who shot Dunphy, Davis acknowledged that he spoke with the officer on Sunday evening to offer him “personal support” as someone Davis has known for a number of years. The Telegram’s James McLeod asked if Davis had spoken to the Dunphy family. Davis said he had not.
On two occasions during the scrum, Davis offered opinions that that justified events on Sunday based on what was happening elsewhere in the world or on the basis of the many ways people can make their views known these days. When asked for specifics, Davis begged off claiming that he did not have all the facts.
This created a curious contradiction that will undoubtedly fuel needless speculation about Davis’ comments. By the end of the scrum, Davis offered new information, namely that it was actually a member of his own staff who had called the police about the comment made on Friday.
Every time Davis begged off a question with the excuse he did not have information, it was true that Davis did have relevant information about events that he was not sharing. How much more does he have that he could have shared with the public but hasn’t? There might be nothing. The problem is that Davis’ performance on Monday gave needless energy to needless speculation.
So what was Davis doing in the scrum?
Why was he later on Power and Politics with Evan Solomon? In that interview, Davis repeated the same prepared lines about events in other places and the way things were these days. While Davis got a mild prodding from local reporters when he used the same lines, Solomon aggressively rejected Davis’ dodges.
There was no legitimate reason for Davis to do any media interviews. During an active police investigation, Davis should have stayed away from any questions about this incident. His instincts may have led Davis to back his former colleagues but his statements, including the expression of “personal support” will only fuel speculation about the incident that only damage his own position.
Davis’ reliance on superficial comments or the claim that he lacked specific information appeared disingenuous, especially when he had relevant information about his own staffer’s role in the incident, that he opted to keep secret until he let it slip out matter-of-factly toward the end. The fact he had spoken to a former colleague of his who had shot a civilian but had not spoken to the family of the deceased man hinted at bias that undermined his earlier expression of condolence.
What we are talking about here is not anything that would lend credibility to the lunatic suggestions some people have been making on social media. What we are talking about is an amateurish performance by the Premier and his staff that leaves the Premier looking biased, callous, and disingenuous.
That’s hardly a good thing, is it?
Questions but no answers
The first two questions point to a serious problem that either the police or the Premier’s Office or both should investigate.
The third question is a matter of policy for the justice minister and the attorney general. Either from a legal or a political standpoint, the best course of action would be to halt the RCMP investigation and call in an outside team to review the whole thing.
The fourth question is one that just makes us all look askance at Paul Davis and his staff, especially in the light of their generally poor performance to date. An independent investigation would likely do more to help Davis and his staff than they know. A repeat of his performance on Monday wouldn’t do him any good at all.