Assault charges dismissed against man shot at by RNC

Charter rights violated when officer pulled trigger on gun, judge rules

Published on August 30, 2014
Justin Chipman

A man accused of assaulting four Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officers involved in a sting operation — one of whom fired a bullet that grazed his chest — had those charges dismissed Friday.

Judge Lois Skanes ruled at St. John’s provincial court that even though Justin Michael Chipman was guilty of dangerous driving on the night of Feb. 18, 2014, court testimony and video evidence did not support finding him guilty on any of the eight assault-related charges he was facing.

Additionally, Skanes ruled on a charter application filed by defence lawyer Ken Mahoney, who argued police used excessive force and made an unlawful arrest. Skanes did not feel the arrest was unlawful, but agreed the shot Const. Dustin Spurrell fired did constitute excessive force.

In her decision, Skanes noted that Spurrell not only jeopardized Chipman’s life, but could have hurt a passenger inside the vehicle and a fellow officer located at the passenger side. Spurrell was at the driver’s side when he fired the shot, which went through a window and grazed Chipman.

The breach of Chipman’s charter rights will likely result in a reduced sentence on the dangerous driving offence.

Skanes suggested Mahoney and Crown prosecutor Jennifer Colford would need to figure out how long Chipman has been remanded in custody.

Chipman earlier pleaded guilty and was sentenced on four other charges related to the Feb. 18 incident, including theft, possession of stolen goods, and public mischief.

Following a short recess, Skanes agreed to have the matter return to court next Tuesday for sentencing.

Officers were involved in a sting operation that night to catch Chipman, who was a suspect in a series of thefts from vehicles in the northeast Avalon region. There were conflicting testimonies from civilian witnesses and officers about how the confrontation unfolded in the parking lot of Memorial University’s Field House.

Video footage of the incident was also captured. Skanes noted the footage from a camera located near the arts building did not offer a great view of the incident, while video taken by a dangling Field House camera offered a decent view of action at the passenger side of the vehicle Chipman was driving.

Following the incident, the RCMP was tasked to investigate Spurrell’s decision to use his firearm. Contacted Friday to comment on Skanes’ ruling the shot fired constituted excessive force and breached Chipman’s rights, RNC Chief Bill Janes spoke of the ongoing nature of that investigation.

“From the date of the initial incident we have asked the RCMP to do a full and independent investigation of the RNC response,” Janes said in an emailed statement to The Telegram. “We are still awaiting the results of that investigation.”

Twitter: @TeleAndrew