Const. Joe Smyth was convicted in provincial court in St. John’s Friday of obstructing justice.
Smyth, 40, had been charged in relation to an incident May 12, 2017, when he stopped a motorcycle on Torbay Road in St. John’s and issued the driver four traffic tickets, including one for running a red light. Footage from the motorcyclist's Go-Pro camera revealed the light was actually green.
Judge Mike Madden noted Friday that while there were unexplained gaps in the video and that Smyth had been investigating accounts of a motorcyclist driving recklessly in traffic, after reviewing all the evidence it was “inexplicable” that Smyth thought the light was red.
Madden said everything Smyth saw from his position on the road that day — the traffic flow, positions of vehicles both moving and stopped — would leave any competent driver to come to the conclusion that the light was green.
“It is clear Smyth’s memory of what he saw is not accurate,” Madden said. “Is it a falsehood or a mistake?”
Madden said based on the evidence during the trial, he doesn’t believe Smyth saw a red light.
The courtroom on Friday morning was crowded with fellow police officers, media and some members of the public, including the daughter of Donald Dunphy.
Smyth is the RNC officer who shot and killed Dunphy on Easter Sunday in 2015 in Mitchell’s Brook when he was a member of then-premier Paul Davis's security detail and was investigating tweets Dunphy sent that referred to government members.
An ensuing public inquiry cleared Smyth of wrongdoing in that incident.
During the five-day trial held last month, Smyth told the court that while he was driving southbound in rush-hour traffic, he honestly thought the motorcyclist's northbound traffic light was red. He said he made a split-second observation and wasn't out to get the driver — Sayed Husaini — whose orange Honda Repsol matched the description of the one Smyth had pursued but which got away from him a month before.
The Crown had argued that given the timing of the lights and the heavy flow of traffic heading through the intersection at the same time as the motorcycle, it was highly unlikely Smyth mistook the light for red.
Defence lawyer Jerome Kennedy had questioned Husaini's credibility, noting his arrogant and dismissive behaviour on the stand, and his refusal to answer general questions about such things as his work and birthplace.
Kennedy also pointed out it is common for people to dispute a traffic ticket, noting many are contested in traffic court every year. However, he said this case ended up in criminal court because Husaini found out the officer was Smyth.
Kennedy argued that Smyth made a mistake and in no way wilfully obstructed justice.
Dr. Marina Hewlet, a psychologist who treated Smyth after the Dunphy shooting and the subsequent inquiry, testified that the stress Smyth was experiencing might have played a role in his writing an erroneous traffic ticket.
Hewlett said Smyth should not have returned to operational duty as soon as he did following the Dunphy shooting incident.
Smyth will be back in court April 18 for a sentencing hearing.