Thunder Bay police officer guilty of neglect, discreditable conduct for investigation death of Stacy DeBungee

‘Finally, some accountability’ says lawyer for the DeBungee family.

A Thunder Bay police officer has been found guilty of neglect of duty and discreditable conduct for his role in the death investigation into Stacy DeBungee.

In a 119-page ruling released on July 19, Thunder Bay police Staff Sgt. Shawn Harrison, the lead detective on the case, was found guilty for how he handled the investigation.

“I cannot understand, how or why Staff Sergeant Harrison concluded as quickly as he did, that alcohol contributed to Stacy DeBungee’s death other than reliance on his conscious or unconscious bias linking it to his Indigenous status,” the report said in part. “According to the evidence, including that of Staff Sergeant Harrison, while he was at the scene there was no evidence whatsoever of alcohol consumption.

“I find the behaviour of Staff Sergeant Harrison amounts to discreditable conduct because, with respect to police services he was duty bound to provide, he failed to treat the investigation equally, without discrimination due to Stacy DeBungee’s Indigenous status.

“Although it is not necessary to consider it, nonetheless, I find 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.”

The other officer was acquitted on both charges.

Thunder Bay detective
The body of Stacy DeBungee was discovered in a Thunder Bay river in 2015. Photo: APTN file

DeBungee’s body was discovered in the McIntyre River in October 2015. Thunder Bay police quickly ruled the death as not suspicious in nature.

DeBungee was from Rainy River First Nation.

But DeBungee’s brother, Brad, along with the then chief of the community filed two public complaints with the Office of the Independent Review Director (OIRD), alleging a negligent police investigation.

Those complaints resulted in the OIRPD’s Broke Trust report and a recent police services act hearing.

In a press release, Asha James, the lawyer for the public complainants said, “it was clear from the evidence that by the time Stacy DeBungee was removed from the river, Staff Sergeant Harrison had already concluded his investigation based on racist stereotypes. What the public complainants sought is accountability for that conduct.”

“The evidence that came forward from this hearing, that Staff Sergeant Harrison, who is responsible for training other Thunder Bay police officers, had not even read the Broken Trust Report was just appalling to the family. To see Staff Sergeant Harrison being found guilty of both discreditable conduct and neglect of duty is a relief felt by the Public Complainants seven years in the making.”

Speaking to APTN News on Wednesday, James said the DeBungee family felt there was “finally, some accountability.”

A hearing will be held in September to determine what discipline Harrison will face. James said it could range from relinquishing banked hours to termination of his job.

“The family is of the opinion that whatever the punishment is, it needs to be on the high end to send a message this type of conduct isn’t acceptable and sours the reputation of the Thunder Bay police service,” said James.

James said the complaints filed by Brad DeBungee “turned a microscope on the Thunder Bay police service. It helped validate the experience of a lot of Indigenous people in Thunder Bay.”

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