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Smyth’s mental state may have led to error on duty, psychologist says

Psychologist Dr. Marina Hewlett testified today at the trial of RNC Const. Joe Smyth at provincial court in St. John’s.
Psychologist Dr. Marina Hewlett testified today at the trial of RNC Const. Joe Smyth at provincial court in St. John’s. - Rosie Mullaley

The psychologist who treated Const. Joe Smyth after he fatally shot Don Dunphy in 2015 and testified at an inquiry said the stress the RNC officer was experiencing may have played a role in him writing an erroneous traffic ticket.
Dr. Marina Hewlett said Smyth was experiencing symptoms of acute stress disorder, with nightmares and flashbacks, and should not have returned to operational duty as soon he did.
“He was certainly experiencing anticipatory stress anxiety,” Hewlett said while testifying in Smyth’s trial at provincial court in St. John’s today.
“Put that with quite a bit of sensory stimulation. He may have been hyper-focused on the one scene,” she added.
Smyth is charged with obstructing justice as a result of an incident that happened May 12, 2017, when he stopped s motorcyclist on Torbay Road and issued him four traffic tickets, including one for running a red light. The motorcyclist’s Go Pro camera revealed the light was actually green.
Hewlett — who saw Smyth for 14 sessions — said the officer’s visual judgment and perception may have been affected by his stress level at the time he made the traffic stop. She said he may have been hyper focused and hyper vigilant which would make it easy to make errors.
“Errors are not uncommon when you have a lot of stimuli,” said Hewlett, noting the traffic and noise at the time. “Images could easily be distorted.”
She said she wasn’t told Smyth was returning to work. She said she never would have recommended he return to active duty dealing with the public, as his treatment wasn’t complete. She said she may have suggested he go back part-time at an administrative level.
“Stress creates vulnerability,” said Hewlett, who said Smyth was still dealing with intense public scrutiny. “He had just been through the ordeal of an inquiry and hadn’t been through the healing time.”
The traffic stop happened a month after the Dunphy inquiry ended and before the report was released.
Smyth had been on sick leave after the shooting, but said he and his supervisor agreed to have him return to work in the traffic division. Smyth testified Monday that he thought it would do him good to get back to work.
“Every police I’ve worked with feels that way. It’s in their culture to be strong,” she said. “(Experiencing mental anguish) is considered a weakness. I think it’s changing now.”
Lawyers will present their closing arguments this afternoon.

rosie.mullaley@thetelegram.com
Twitter: TelyRosie

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