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The legal process and comments by police chief may have done too much damage for him to continue on the force
“Vindication” is a word Const. Joe Smyth’s lawyer used when speaking to reporters outside the St. John’s courtroom where Smyth was acquitted Tuesday morning. Smyth, however, says he wouldn’t go quite that far.
The 40-year-old longtime RNC officer had been embroiled in a criminal court process since July 2018, when he was charged with obstruction of justice for giving a motorcyclist a traffic ticket that he allegedly knew wasn’t warranted.
After being convicted then subsequently winning an appeal, the Crown informed the court Tuesday it would not be proceeding with a new trial. Prosecutor Lloyd Strickland asked for the charge against Smyth to be dismissed, saying the Crown had reviewed the case in context of the appeal judge’s rulings, and no longer felt there was a reasonable likelihood of conviction.
“Vindication is a challenging word for me to use at this stage, as I know this process should never have been initiated in the first place,” Smyth told The Telegram after his acquittal. “I cannot comprehend how a charge was ever laid, so it’s absolutely astounding to me that the Crown proceeded with a trial, which led to a conviction.”
Smyth had been investigating reports of a distinctive orange motorcycle travelling at speeds up to 200 km/h in the St. John’s area for about a month when he received information on May 12, 2017 of an orange bike on Torbay Road. He headed in that direction, stopping for about 20 minutes along the way to issue another driver a speeding ticket.
Smyth located Sayad Husaini, who had previously been identified by other RNC officers as the driver of the orange Repsol in question. He pulled him over and issued him four different traffic tickets, including one for running a red light. Footage from Husaini’s Go-Pro camera later revealed the light had been green.
Husaini testified he believed Smyth had been out to get him, since he had gotten away from the police officer in a pursuit a month earlier.
Smyth testified he had genuinely believed the light was red until he was shown the Go-Pro footage by an investigator with the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT), which had been called in to investigate. Smyth acknowledged to the investigator that he had made a mistake, and had wrongly believed the light had been red.
“I can say that it would be extremely challenging to envision any viable policing career in my future. The damage that has been done through this process and the prejudicial commentary seems insurmountably irreparable at this point.”
-Const. Joe Smyth
At the time Smyth was charged, RNC Chief Joe Boland issued a public statement, saying he had asked government to call in an outside agency to conduct an investigation of Smyth’s actions, given the information provided by Husaini, the circumstances, and the seriousness of the allegations. He suspended Smyth without pay on the day he was charged, after which Husaini made a formal public complaint against Smyth.
Boland said the RNC’s Professional Standards Section would be undertaking a separate internal investigation once the court process was over.
“I will continue to hold any officer who does not represent our values accountable for their actions,” Boland said at the time.
As Smyth considers a return to policing, he said those comments, made before his trial at a time when he was presumed innocent, are concerning to him.
“I can say that it would be extremely challenging to envision any viable policing career in my future,” Smyth told The Telegram. “The damage that has been done through this process and the prejudicial commentary seems insurmountably irreparable at this point.”
The RNC provided a statement to members of the media Tuesday, saying Smyth’s suspension has been lifted and he will be assigned to administrative duties until the public complaint process is completed. Smyth said he was advised he can return to active police duty pending medical clearance.
A suspension without pay isn’t typical for police officers, said defence lawyer Jerome Kennedy, although it’s not unheard of. When asked, Kennedy didn’t rule out the possibility of a legal claim for Smyth’s lost wages now that his case has ended in an acquittal.
“I’m not quite certain what the man wishes to do, but he was presumed innocent of the charge that was laid, despite the comments of the chief of police,” Kennedy said. “At the end of the day he’s acquitted, so at a minimum he should be entitled to the pay that was taken from him as a result of the chief’s decision.”
Kennedy has long maintained that Smyth was only charged because of his identity; something the Crown has long disputed.
Smyth was a member of then-premier Paul Davis’s security detail on Easter Sunday in 2015 when he was sent to investigate tweets Mitchell’s Brook resident Donald Dunphy had posted referring to government members. Smyth shot and killed Dunphy during an interaction at Dunphy’s home, and was later cleared of wrongdoing after a public inquiry.
Dunphy’s death and the inquiry findings have been emotional issues for many in the public, as has his conviction and successful appeal on the obstruction charge, with people voicing strong opinions on both sides.
Smyth said he recognizes some might feel his criminal charge was a positive step forward for police accountability.
“However, this is simply not the case,” he said. “Instead, it has created fear within police ranks of being able to effectively do their job without politically-motivated scrutiny or punitive action. These are unfortunate circumstances for all police officers in Newfoundland and Labrador, but the biggest impact will be felt by the people we want to serve.”