A Thunder Bay police officer found guilty of discreditable conduct and neglect of duty in investigating the 2015 death of Ojibway man Stacy DeBungee is being demoted for 18 months.
In a disciplinary decision on Friday, adjudicator Greg Walton said as long as Staff Sergeant Shawn Harrison complies with the service’s promotional policy and has no other disciplinary actions against him during the year and a half demotion to sergeant, he can return to his previous rank. He must also complete Indigenous cultural competency training within three months.
Mr. Walton said the public interest and Thunder Bay’s large Indigenous population was an aggravating factor in his decision.
In the guilty verdict last year, Mr. Walton said Staff Sgt. Harrison discriminated against 41-year old Mr. DeBungee because of an unconscious bias against Indigenous peoples, and he failed to treat the sudden death investigation equally to others. Mr. DeBungee was found dead face down in a river bank in October, 2015.
The DeBungee family’s lawyer, Asha James, said Friday they hope the decision sends a message to other Thunder Bay police officers and that the family remains disappointed it will likely never know what happened to Mr. DeBungee.
Mr. DeBungee’s brother Brad DeBungee and former chief of their community Rainy River First Nation, Jim Leonard, prompted the deeper look at the investigation after they filed a public complaint against Staff Sgt. Harrison and the service in 2016.