'I made a mistake'

Court Officer who had gun stolen from his car given absolute discharge

Rosie Mullaley rmullaley@thetelegram.com
Published on March 27, 2010

A veteran police officer, whose decision to leave a gun in his car sparked a massive search after it was stolen, stood before a judge Friday and apologized for the trouble he caused.

"I made a mistake," Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Sgt. Campbell Feehan said during his sentencing hearing at provincial court in St. John's.

A veteran police officer, whose decision to leave a gun in his car sparked a massive search after it was stolen, stood before a judge Friday and apologized for the trouble he caused.

"I made a mistake," Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Sgt. Campbell Feehan said during his sentencing hearing at provincial court in St. John's.

"I want to apologize to the court, to my family, my co-workers and the chief (Joe Browne).

"I also want to apologize to the citizens of Mount Pearl for putting them at risk for a period of time."

The 47-year-old - who has been an RNC officer for 25 years - pleaded guilty to one count of careless storage of a firearm, which is a regulatory offence under the Public Agent Firearms Act.

The Crown agreed to withdraw the Criminal Code charge of careless use of a firearm. Judge Mark Pike agreed with the defence's recommendation to give Feehan an absolute discharge - meaning no conviction will be entered and his record will remain clean.

"Fortunately, nobody was hurt ...," said Pike, who also noted Feehan had been disciplined internally with a two-week suspension without pay.

"There was no harm done. ... He accepts responsibility and understands the danger he put the public in."

The incident happened Dec. 14, 2009.

According to the agreed statement of facts, Feehan was scheduled to work 9 a.m. to 1 a.m. that day and was on plainclothes duty.

At suppertime, he met his family at a local restaurant. He was driving an unmarked police car, an SUV. Before he went into the restaurant, he took off his holster and put the service sidearm - a Sig Sauer Model P226, 40-calibre firearm - and police radio in the compartment between the front seats.

He placed his gloves and winter hat on top, so the items were not visible.

After supper, Feehan drove back to the office, a commercial premises in the Smallwood Drive area of Mount Pearl, and parked in the parking lot. He said he locked the vehicle's doors.

At around 8:45 p.m., another police officer used the vehicle to go pick up a sandwich and returned five minutes later.

When Feehan returned to the SUV at around 10:30 p.m., he noticed his gloves and hat were on the passenger seat and his service sidearm and holster were gone. The other officers didn't have them.

Two other vehicles in the parking lot also had items stolen from them.

There was no sign of forced entry to Feehan's SUV.

Feehan notified his supervisors and a search crew was formed to look for the missing weapon.

The following day, more than 40 members of the Rover Search and Rescue unit assisted in the hunt.

At 9:10 p.m., two members of the Rovers team found the gun in a wooded area just east of the Reid Centre in Mount Pearl, about a half kilometre from where it had been stolen.

The sidearm was in a plastic shopping bag and appeared to have been thrown into the woods off a walking path.

The 12 missing bullets were found the next day by an RNC member of the search team.

The bullets were in a plastic sandwich baggie and had been thrown into the branches of a small tree, about 200 feet from where the sidearm had been found the day before.

On Jan. 11, Feehan appeared before RNC chief of police at an internal disciplinary hearing and pleaded guilty to one count of conduct unbecoming a police officer by carelessly storing a firearm.

He was given a two-week suspension without pay.

"That cost him several thousand dollars in pay," Feehan's lawyer, Brad Wicks, told the judge.

Wicks also pointed out that the incident has caused Feehan tremendous embarrassment from all the media attention. He said Feehan has had a "successful and valuable career with the RNC and has supervised a lot of very important investigations."

It wasn't Feehan's first time being disciplined by the chief. In 2002, he was reprimanded for storing his sidearm in the RNC armoury instead of in his personal locker, as required by RNC policy.

For the latest incident, Crown prosecutor David Schermbrucker of Halifax suggested a conditional discharge with six months' probation, "simply because of the heightened risk, but nothing more punitive than that."

However, Pike noted the effect the incident has had on Feehan and said given the circumstances, an absolute discharge was appropriate.

Feehan declined comment outside court, but smiled and shook his lawyer's hand before leaving.

rgillingham@thetelegram.com