Guilty Verdict of Racist Police Investigation Against Thunder Bay Staff Sergeant – A First

For a copy of the decision, click here.

Today, Staff Sergeant Harrison was found guilty of discreditable conduct and neglect of duty due to a racist-led police investigation that he conducted. This decision, stemming from a Police Services Act proceedings (“PSA Hearing”) against Staff Sergeant Harrison and Sergeant Whipple, who were involved in the shoddy investigation into the death of Stacy DeBungee, was released today, July 19th, 2022.

In his decision, Hearing Officer Greg Walton made the following findings concerning the alleged misconduct of the officers. With respect to Staff Sergeant Harrison: Count #1: Neglect of Duty – Guilty; Count #2: Discreditable Conduct – Guilty; and, with respect to the alleged misconduct of Detective Constable Whipple (as he was at the time): Count #1 Neglect of Duty – Not Guilty; Count #2: Discreditable Conduct – Not Guilty.

In reaching this decision, Supt. Walton referenced his inability to understand how or why Staff Sergeant Harrison concluded so quickly that alcohol was a contributing factor into Stacy’s death, other than reliance on his conscious or unconscious bias linking it to Stacy’s Indigenous status.

“There is no doubt whatsoever in my mind that Staff Sergeant Harrison decided very early on that the death was nonsuspicious. I am equally convinced that because the deceased person was Indigenous, found in a river where other Indigenous men had been found drowned, with a high level of alcohol in their system, he assumed the very same circumstances must have therefore existed in this case.”

Staff Sergeant Harrison was found guilty of discreditable conduct because “he failed to treat the investigation equally, without discrimination due to Stacy DeBungee’s Indigenous status” and that “a reasonable, impartial, and fully informed member of the public would find that Staff Sergeant Harrison’s conduct would bring discredit to the reputation of his employer.”

Overall, it was determined that “Staff Sergeant Harrison failed to treat or protect the deceased and his or her family equally and without discrimination because the deceased was Indigenous; there are no explanations that account for the failings in this case; the failure to conduct an adequate investigation including the premature conclusion that the death was nonsuspicious is, at least in part, attributable to an unconscious bias.”

As it concerns the actions of Sergeant Whipple, Supt. Walton noted that there is no evidence indicating Sergeant Whipple participated in any decisions made at the scene where Stacy’s body was found. Similarly, it was determined that Sergeant Whipple was not responsible for any decision making during the course of the investigation and that his role was limited to that of a support person. As a result, there is insufficient evidence to support the assertion that Sergeant Whipple committed the act of discreditable conduct and neglect of duty because of his limited role in the sudden death investigation.

The PSA Hearing represents seven years of advocacy efforts by the DeBungee Family and seven years since the body of Stacy DeBungee was found in the McIntyre River on the morning of October 15, 2015. The DeBungee Family is pleased that there is finally some accountability for the way Stacy’s investigation was handled.

This matter will resume in September 2022 for a penalty hearing for Officer Harrison.

Related Documents:

Media Release dated July 19, 2022

Broken Trust: Indigenous People and the Thunder Bay Police Service

One Year After Broken Trust: Report on Implementation

Media Coverage 

“Lead Investigator in DeBungee Death Case in Thunder Bay found guilty of misconduct, 2nd officer cleared” – CBC News, July 20, 2022

“Police Officer Guilty of Misconduct in DeBungee Investigation”– TB NewsWatch – July 19, 2022

“Thunder Bay police officer guilty of neglect, discreditable conduct for investigation death of Stacy DeBungee” – Dennis Ward, APTN – July 20, 2022

“Thunder Bay police officer guilty of neglect of duty in 2015 homicide investigation” – Willow Fiddler, The Globe and Mail – July 20, 2022

“Discreditable Conduct Charges for Thunder Bay Police Officer” – Kevin Jeffrey, CKDR 92.7FM Dryden

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