THUNDER BAY — Three officers involved in the 2015 sudden death investigation of 41-year-old Stacy DeBungee will face disciplinary hearings, an adjudicator ruled on Wednesday.
Falconers LLP, the law firm representing the surviving brother of DeBungee, Brad, and their home community of Rainy River First Nations announced on their website adjudicator Lee Ferrier’s decision regarding the officers involved in the investigation on Wednesday, Feb. 17.
DeBungee, an indigenous man from Rainy River First Nation, died in Thunder Bay after his body was found in the McIntyre River on Oct. 19, 2015.
A virtual hearing was held on Feb. 10 to determine if the officers involved in the investigation would face disciplinary hearings. Ferrier heard submissions from legal counsel representing the respondent officers, the DeBungee family and the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD).
At the time, Thunder Bay police ruled DeBungee’s death as non-criminal just a few hours after his body was found. An investigation by the OIPRD was launched in 2016 after receiving a complaint from the DeBungee family who raised questions about how city police handled the investigation.
The investigative report concluded officers on the case ignored or neglected important leads and that racism may have influenced the handling of the investigation and there were “probable grounds to support an allegation of neglect of duty”.
Under the Police Services Act, police officers are to be notified within six months of disciplinary hearings into their conduct.
However, because the OIPRD report took nearly two years to complete an extension hearing was held before Ferrier last week to determine if there was reasonable delay and if disciplinary hearings for the officers involved should still proceed.
“Mr. Ferrier indicated that the three officers may be served with notices of hearing which is the first step in instituting disciplinary proceedings under the Police Services Act,” the notice posted on the Falconers LLP website said.
Lawyer Miriam Saksznajder for the OIPRD argued the length of time for the DeBungee police investigation review was reasonable considering the systemic review that was also launched around the same time as the investigative report.
In Ferrier’s decision, he agreed by stating the delay in serving the three officers with notices was explained by the reasons he heard.
“Mr. Ferrier found that in the circumstances, the matter could not reasonably have been completed within the six-month delay that was in issue,” the post said.