Defence lawyer says RNC used excessive force in firing shot at his client

Josh Pennell
Published on August 19, 2014

The RNC created an unnecessarily dangerous and confrontational situation in the sting operation set up to catch Justin Michael Chipman.

That was the crux of the final submission made by defence lawyer Ken Mahoney on Monday.

The trial has centred around a sting operation that went awry in February when the RNC attempted to catch Chipman breaking into cars in the Fieldhouse parking lot at Memorial University.

Chipman pleaded guilty to several charges regarding the robbery earlier in the summer. What’s being contested are several charges of assaulting a peace officer and a charge of assault with a weapon that allegedly happened when Chipman sped away from police in the parking lot.

Mahoney argued that excessive force was used by officers involved in the sting operation and that the assault charges against Chipman are exaggerated.

A shot was fired at Chipman before he got away from police. That bullet grazed his chest. Chipman was later arrested at a house in the west end of St. John’s. The SUV he was driving, which was later determined to be stolen, was found torched in a different part of town.

The court has heard the testimony of officers involved in the sting and arrest of Chipman, as well as those of several civilians who witnessed the attempted takedown of Chipman by the RNC.

Mahoney said the civilians who witnessed the incident in the parking lot all testified in court that they didn’t see the police officers take out their badges or declare themselves as police when they were trying to get Chipman out of the car.

Nor were there any flashing lights or sirens used in the undercover cars they were driving. Officers who have taken the stand have said they drew their badges and yelled several times that they were police.

But the real heart of the testimony involves the actions of RNC Const. Dustin Spurrell. Spurrell testified he “T-Boned” Chipman’s car in the parking lot in a police manoeuvre that stops suspects as they try to flee. Mahoney argued that the testimony of other witnesses and evidence shows Chipman was already stopped and Spurrell rammed him from behind.

Chipman got stuck in a snowbank following his and Spurrell’s vehicles hitting each other. It was at some point while Chipman was stuck that Spurrell drew his firearm.

Spurrell’s testimony has him standing off front centre on the driver’s side of Chipman’s vehicle with his revolver drawn as Chipman attempted to get his vehicle clear.

Spurrell said Chipman was flooring the vehicle, attempting to get clear of the snowbank and, when it suddenly lurched forward, it did so in his direction. Feeling threatened, he fired a single shot. That bullet went through the driver’s side window, through Chipman’s shirt and grazed his chest. Chipman then sped off.

Based on the conflicting testimonies of officers who were on the scene and the civilian witnesses, Mahoney  argued Chipman’s car never moved toward Spurrell in a threatening manner because it never moved at all, except perhaps for some light rocking, but “not in a threat to human life.”

Chipman sped off after the shot was fired and was never veering toward Spurrell, witnesses said.

The danger, Mahoney said, was created by Spurrell in a “clearly unjustified use of lethal force.”

When he took the stand earlier in the summer, Spurrell said he thought he killed Chipman because he is confident in his shooting.

A decision on the Chipman case is expected this week.