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Officer who investigated Indigenous man’s death in Thunder Bay demoted, family says more needed

An Ontario agency that oversees complaints against police has demoted an officer who was found guilty of investigating with bias the 2015 death of an Indigenous man in Thunder Bay.

The Office of the Independent Police Review Director ruled on Friday that Shawn Harrison has been demoted to sergeant but can return to his rank of staff sergeant after 18 months if his disciplinary record remains unblemished.

The agency said Harrison also has to go through Indigenous cultural competency training.

In October 2015, Stacey DeBungee was spotted in Thunder Bay’s McIntyre River and the Thunder Bay Police Service put out statements deeming his death non-suspicious hours later, before an autopsy was completed.

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In 2022, Harrison was found guilty of neglect of duty and discreditable conduct after adjudicator Greg Walton found the officer’s unconscious bias led him to conduct a grossly deficient investigation that was tainted by racism.

Lawyers representing DeBungee’s family, who wanted the officer terminated, say on the family’s behalf that the demotion is not enough to deter similar behaviour in the future and is a missed opportunity to address larger issues between Indigenous people and police.

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