A police investigation of a public complaint has concluded that a Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officer abused his power, after he had a person in Corner Brook unlawfully detained in 2015 for provocative tweets in the days after the fatal police shooting of Don Dunphy.
The report found police didn’t have grounds to apprehend Andrew Abbass and bring him to hospital for a psychiatric assessment under the Mental Health Care and Treatment against his will.
“This case involves a serious and wrongful deprivation of [Abbass’s] liberty and an unwarranted characterization of [Abbass] as a person with mental health issues arising from an abuse of authority by a police officer,” wrote Edmund Oates, a retired deputy chief of the force, in a report he authored after investigating a complaint filed by Abbass in May 2017.
“The circumstances of this case are something one could imagine happening in a police state, but not in a free democratic country which is governed by a charter of rights.”
The Supreme Court of N.L also ruled on Apr. 27, 2018, that Abbass had been unlawfully detained.
The report doesn’t name retired RNC sergeant Tim Buckle, identifying him as “Officer X”. The media has confirmed Officer X is Buckle based on specific details in the report.
Oates concludes Officer X was eventually responsible for the detention, and would be fired for abusing his power if he had not already retired from the RNC.
He claims the RNC doesn’t have the power to discipline a police officer after they have left the police force.
“The unlawful detention directed by Officer X in bad faith represents such a serious departure from the high standards that RNC supervisors are expected to adhere to, that if the Officer X had still been a police officer at the time of this decision, I would have imposed the penalty of dismissal upon him for his conduct in this case,” he said in the 110-page report.
In a message to the media refusing a request to speak with him, Buckle wrote, “[I’ve] been advised to not comment on this report released to Abbass.”
Abbass posted Oate’s full report on Twitter. He refused a request for an interview with the local media.
Abbass’s detention happened on Apr.7, 2015, two days after Dunphy was fatally shot by RNC Const. Joe Smyth.
The shooting happened when Smyth visited Dunphy at his home in Mitchells Brook on Apr.5 to ask Dunphy regarding tweets he posted, which named then premier Paul Davis as well as another politician.
Smyth was a member of a police division charged with protecting the premier. An inquiry into the shooting concluded Smyth’s use utilization of lethal force against Dunphy was justified due to Smyth was acting in self-defence.
The day after the shooting, Abbass, who was living in Corner Brook at the time, posted a number of tweets that were critical of the police and Davis.
One of them is:
“When will @premierofnl be arrested for #stateSponsoredTerrorism?#cdnpoli #nlpoli.”
Buckle opened an uttering threats investigation following Abbass’s tweet on Apr. 7:
“How about this, premier of NL: I’m going to bring down Confederation and have politicians executed. Ready to have me shot, coward?”
Oates concluded these tweets did not justify Abbass’s detention.
“[Abbass’s] tweets could certainly be characterized as provocative of authority and politically charged; however, [they] could not, in and of themselves, be said to provide evidence capable of providing an officer with reasonable grounds to believe [Abbass] suffered from a mental illness,” he wrote.
No mental illness
Police went to Abbass’s home hours after that tweet was posted.
Oates says Abbass was detained under the Mental Health Care and Treatment Act and was brought to hospital for a psychiatric assessment.
His report claims the psychiatric assessment concluded Abbass did not have a mental disorder and was not a danger to himself or others.
“There was no evidence of Abbass ever having been suicidal, homicidal or psychotic and it appeared that there had not been any change to his personality over the years prior to his admission to the hospital on April 7, 2015,” wrote Oates.
The 2018 Supreme Court ruling found that the Western Health Care Corporation had not produced evidence to demonstrate that the arrest was unlawful.
Complaint about Smyth
Abbass filed his complaint regarding the RNC after learning about a BlackBerry Messenger exchange between Buckle and Smyth at the inquiry into Dunphy’s death.
The inquiry heard that Buckle and Smyth were friends who contacted each other frequently by phone and text.
These BBM texts, sent on Apr. 7, 2015, were entered as evidence at the inquiry:
Buckle: “Arrested Abbass under MHCTA.”
Smyth: “Saw that! Nice.”
Buckle: “He’s at hospital now.”
The complaint Abbass filed after learning about this evidence names Smyth and Buckle.
In a separate seven-page report, particularly dealing with the complaint regarding Smyth, Oates said the allegations were not proven “on a balance of probabilities”.
In his conclusion Oates claims Buckle was motivated by his “desire to protect and assist his best friend [Smyth] in the wake of the Dunphy shooting regardless of the illegality, abuse of authority or defamation of character that assisting and protecting [Smyth] would or might entail.”
Oates says Buckle was able to direct RNC officers to carry out Abbass’s detention without questioning his orders, since Buckle had created a toxic work environment by bullying and intimidating RNC members.
The report additionally details allegations that Buckle made some inappropriate sexual comments including at least one to the partner of a RNC officer.
Oates’s report, dated June 29, 2021, provides six recommendations, including the call for:
- An apology given on behalf of the RNC to each civilian staff member, officer and female partner of officers who reported being negatively affected by Buckle’s inappropriate conduct as part of the RNC internal probe.
- The RNC to offer extra training to officers regarding the legal grounds required for an arrest under mental health legislation, which stresses the serious negative consequences arising from an illegal apprehension.
It additionally called for the public release of internal disciplinary matters “in the interests of full transparency and increasing public confidence.”