THUNDER BAY – Brad DeBungee said after his brother Stacy’s body was found in a river in the city of Thunder Bay in October 2015, he wasn’t satisfied with the explanation of investigators that he passed out and drowned, and he became frustrated when trying to get more answers.
“That I was just being brushed off,” DeBungee said of his feelings after a meeting with Staff Sgt. Shawn Harrison of the Thunder Bay Police Service. “We’ve done this investigation and throw everything under the carpet and leave it at that. He said we’ll get back to you if we find any information.”
DeBungee was called to testify by the prosecution on day three of the Police Services Act hearing for Harrison and Det. Shawn Whipple on charges of neglect of duty and discreditable conduct.
Harrison has pleaded guilty to neglect of duty and not guilty to discreditable conduct, while Whipple pleaded not guilty to both charges.
Stacy DeBungee’s body was found in the McIntyre River on Oct. 19, 2015 and police issued a statement hours later stating the death was non-suspicious.
Brad DeBungee testified that he learned of his brother’s death the next day and went to police headquarters on Balmoral Street with two family members to speak with investigators to find out more about what happened.
“We wanted to find out information on how Stacy ended up in the river,” he said.
During that meeting with Harrison, Whipple, and a third officer, DeBungee asked about how Stacy was found in the water and if he could see scene photos or any evidence, but was told that information could not be divulged.
He was told that an ID card was found on the scene belonging to someone else and police were looking for that individual, but also that he did not want to be found because he had outstanding warrants.
According to DeBungee, it was also during this meeting when Harrison expressed his opinion that Stacy had passed out on the river bank and rolled into the water and drowned.
“I was left with no answers,” DeBungee said of the meeting. “Whatever we found, that’s it and we are going to leave it at that and don’t call us, we’ll call you.”
After the meeting, DeBungee was contacted by Harrison to let him know he could take possession of Stacy’s body. It was after a ceremony in a funeral home that DeBungee reached out to former Rainy River First Nations Chief Jim Leonard to ask for assistance because of how Stacy looked.
“His nose was all twisted and the side of his cheek was puffed out and there was a mark on his neck,” DeBungee said.
DeBungee tried to meet with Harrison again on Nov. 19, 2015, along with a private investigator who was hired by the family to look into the circumstances surrounding Stacy’s death and had information to share with police, including his bank card being used the night after his body was found.
Harrison was not available that day, but DeBungee did meet with him again on Nov. 24, 2015 when he attended police headquarters to obtain a freedom of information act request to obtain information on the investigation.
DeBungee testified that during that meeting he told Harrison that he did not believe police were doing a proper investigation into his brother’s death, with Harrison responding that in the previous year there had been 10 homicides, all of which were resolved except for one.
“It was like he was bragging. Like he has a reputation,” DeBungee said. “I said, I think you’re a liar and he got offended by that. I said I think everything has been handed to him on a silver platter and you didn’t have to do no work on these investigations. To this day that 10thone hasn’t been solved.”
In the spring of 2016, DeBungee filed a complaint with the Office of the Independent Police Review Director. He said he did so because he wants to know what really happened to his brother.
“We need closure,” he said.
The OIPRD report released in 2018 found there were deficiencies in the investigation into Stacy DeBungee’s death and identified grounds to support allegations of neglect of duty on the part of the lead investigators.
The Ontario Provincial Police have since opened an independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding DeBungee’s death at the request of the Ministry of the Attorney General.
Det. Staff Sgt. Susan Kaucharik testifies
Also called to testify on Wednesday was former Det. Staff Sgt. Susan Kaucharik, who was working in the criminal investigation branch in 2015.
Kaucharik initially faced a Police Services Act charge of neglect of duty in relation to the DeBungee investigation, but is no longer subject to a hearing due to her retirement from the Thunder Bay Police Service in April 2022.
Kaucharik testified she was participating in training on Oct. 19, 2015 when DeBungee was found, but did speak with the Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief the next day, when she relayed information she had received from Harrison.
“There was no crime scene. They were still investigating it,” she said. “There was nothing at the time that it was criminal. She was concerned that there had been a death. I was trying to alleviate her concern by saying at this time it did not appear to be criminal.”
Service prosecutor Joel DuBois asked Kaucharik what the basis was for the matter not being deemed criminal at that time.
Kaucharik said the coroner advised investigators that he did not see anything criminal at the time and would perform an autopsy, and the scene was released.
“Usually if there is a concern it is a criminal matter, the scene is held until after the autopsy,” she said.
During questioning by Asha James, counsel for the public complainants including the DeBungee family, Kaucharik said if something came from the autopsy that made the coroner or investigators believe the death was criminal, it would have been handled differently.
But James asked if a death is only considered suspicious if there are visible signs of injury on a deceased individual.
“There has to be some evidence that there is foul play,” Kaucharik said. “That’s the only way I can put it.”
James also asked Kaucharik regarding a witness stating they had seen four individuals near the river where DeBungee was found the night of Oct. 19, 2015 and that two were pushing one another.
“You would expect the officers to follow-up and conduct an interview with that individual,” James asked.
“They probably should have,” Kaucharik said.
“Do you think this investigation was done to the best of (Harrison and Whipple’s) ability?” James asked.
“The time and the information they had, I believe it was,” Kaucharik said.
During cross-examination by defense counsel David Butt, Kaucharik was asked about her impression of Harrison and Whipple as officers with the Thunder Bay Police Service.
“He was excellent. I was very happy. He was a very good detective, officer, leader, supervisor,” she said of Harrison, adding that Whipple also did very well and both were excellent.
“Did you ever, at any time in the course of your knowing or supervising, see any indication of either of these officers exhibiting racist behaviour?” Butt asked.
“Not at all,” Kaucharik said.
“Did you ever observe any situation or come to your attention where they did less than their best because of the cultural background of the victim?” Butt also asked.
“No, never,” Kaucharik said.
At the end of testimony on Wednesday, counsel and adjudicator Greg Walton discussed issues involving the prosecution calling two more witnesses to testify. The witnesses include the private investigator hired by the DeBungee family, and Office of the Independent Police Review Director Gerry McNeilly.
Butt said their evidence is already included in an agreed statement of facts, and asked if the witnesses would provide any other details outside of it.
James argued case conferences held prior to the hearing included the witnesses testifying. James will attempt to contact the private investigator to determine if his testimony will include details outside of the agreed statement of facts and make an argument for permitting McNeilly to testify.
A decision on the witnesses testifying is expected Thursday morning. If the witnesses do not testify, Harrison and Whipple may begin their testimony on Thursday afternoon.