Thunder Bay Police Sergeant Harrison Found Guilty by PSA Hearing

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Thunder Bay Police Service

THUNDER BAY – NEWS – Thunder Bay Police Service Staff Sergeant Harrison has been found guilty of Neglect of Duty and Discreditable Conduct after a Police Services Act Hearing. Sergeant Whipple was found not guilty of both charges of Neglect of Duty and Discreditable Conduct.

The findings were released today following hearings in June in Thunder Bay. The matter related to the investigation of the death of Stacey DeBungee.

Falconer’s Law office released this statement following the decision:

“Today, Staff Sergeant Harrison was found guilty of discreditable conduct and neglect of duty due to a racist-led police investigation that he conducted. This decision, stemming from a Police Services Act proceedings (“PSA Hearing”) against Staff Sergeant Harrison and Sergeant Whipple, who were involved in the shoddy investigation into the death of Stacy DeBungee, was released today, July 19th, 2022.

“In his decision, Hearing Officer Greg Walton made the following findings concerning the alleged misconduct of the officers. With respect to Staff Sergeant Harrison: Count #1: Neglect of Duty – Guilty; Count #2: Discreditable Conduct – Guilty; and, with respect to the alleged misconduct of Detective Constable Whipple (as he was at the time): Count #1 Neglect of Duty – Not Guilty; Count #2: Discreditable Conduct – Not Guilty.

“In reaching this decision, Supt. Walton referenced his inability to understand how or why Staff Sergeant Harrison concluded so quickly that alcohol was a contributing factor into Stacy’s death, other than reliance on his conscious or unconscious bias linking it to Stacy’s Indigenous status.

“There is no doubt whatsoever in my mind that Staff Sergeant Harrison decided very early on that the death was non-suspicious. I am equally convinced that because the deceased person was Indigenous, found in a river where other Indigenous men had been found drowned, with a high level of alcohol in their system, he assumed the very same circumstances must have therefore existed in this case.”

“Staff Sergeant Harrison was found guilty of discreditable conduct because “he failed to treat the investigation equally, without discrimination due to Stacy DeBungee’s Indigenous status” and that “a reasonable, impartial, and fully informed member of the public would find that Staff Sergeant Harrison’s conduct would bring discredit to the reputation of his employer.”

“Overall, it was determined that “Staff Sergeant Harrison failed to treat or protect the deceased and his or her family equally and without discrimination because the deceased was Indigenous; there are no explanations that account for the failings in this case; the failure to conduct an adequate investigation including the premature conclusion that the death was non-suspicious is, at least in part, attributable to an unconscious bias.”

“As it concerns the actions of Sergeant Whipple, Supt. Walton noted that there is no evidence indicating Sergeant Whipple participated in any decisions made at the scene where Stacy’s body was found. Similarly, it was determined that Sergeant Whipple was not responsible for any decision making during the course of the investigation and that his role was limited to that of a support person. As a result, there is insufficient evidence to support the assertion that Sergeant Whipple committed the act of discreditable conduct and neglect of duty because of his limited role in the sudden death investigation.

“The PSA Hearing represents seven years of advocacy efforts by the DeBungee Family and seven years since the body of Stacy DeBungee was found in the McIntyre River on the morning of October 15, 2015. The DeBungee Family is pleased that there is finally some accountability for the way Stacy’s investigation was handled”.

This matter will resume in September 2022 for a penalty hearing for Officer Harrison.

Thunder Bay Police state, “Submissions on disposition will occur in September 2022. Specific dates and location for the disposition hearing will be posted/updated on the following page: https://www.thunderbaypolice.ca/hearings-schedule

“No further comment will be made on this matter.”