Ontario Provincial Police Const. David Dionne displayed “jaw-dropping” behaviour and a “lack of courage” when he failed to respond to a dying woman’s 911 call, a police superintendent has ruled.
Dionne pleaded guilty to two counts of neglect of duty at an OPP disciplinary hearing Feb. 14 and has been demoted from first- to a second-class constable for two years. Dionne’s lawyer said the rank reduction would entail a salary loss of about $32,000, according to a document filed as part of the disciplinary proceeding.
When 54-year-old Kathryn Missen called 911 from her home in Casselman on Sept. 1, 2014, she was struggling to breathe. According to the OPP’s disciplinary decision, Dionne was dispatched to Missen’s home at 6:16 p.m. When OPP dispatch asked Dionne about the incident approximately nine hours later, Dionne reported that there was “trouble on the (phone) line,” and cleared the call, saying no other action was necessary, according to disciplinary documents.
In fact, Dionne never visited Missen’s residence. Police found Missen dead two days later, on Sept. 3, after a concerned neighbour called the police.
Missen had suffered from asthma since birth, according to her sister, Brenda Missen, but was typically able to manage it without medical intervention.
“She had never called 911 before. So, if she was calling 911, it meant that it was very serious,” Brenda said.
Brenda believes a prompt response from emergency services could have saved her sister’s life.
OPP Supt. Robin McElary-Downer accepted a joint submission from Dionne’s lawyer and the lawyer representing Missen’s family, both of whom called for a two-year demotion to the second-class constable.
While the OPP decision focuses on Dionne, Missen’s sister believes culpability goes beyond a single officer. A coroner’s inquest will examine Missen’s death as part of a larger inquest into the province’s 911 responses.
“I’m sure that my sister would not want any individuals blamed for her death,” said Brenda. “It was clearly a huge failure of the system. And so our focus has always been on having the system changed.”
People who could shed further light on the circumstances of Missen’s death declined to comment to the Citizen, including a lawyer for Dionne, an OPP spokesperson and the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services.
As the Missen family sought answers, Steven Dick, a friend of Missen’s who has been designated as a public complainant in the proceedings, and is acting as a representative for the family, filed a report about the response to the initial 911 call.
Dick, a former Ottawa firefighter, said he prepared the report for the regional coroner and based it on information received from the OPP and Office of the Independent Police Review Director.
Missen’s call was received at a North Bay communications centre, where an operator spent “43 seconds listening to Kathryn moan, wheeze and desperately attempt to communicate her emergency.” About two and a half minutes into the call, the operator transferred the call to a Smiths Falls call centre, where another operator ran through a list of questions, but received no response.
At that point, Missen was likely “incapacitated,” Dick said.
The operator ended the call and attempted to call back, but could not make contact because Missen’s phone was off the hook. The operator “more or less … (gave) up on that call.”
More than 90 minutes after Missen’s call, as the Smiths Falls dispatcher’s shift was winding down, she contacted the OPP and asked Dionne to go to Missen’s home. Dick described the conversation between Dionne and the operator as dominated by “jocular, informal bantering.”
Dionne was found guilty of neglect of duty and deceit after a disciplinary hearing in 2016, but McElary-Downer later voided that decision and declared a mistrial.
Lawyers for all parties agreed a mistrial was necessary after learning Dionne’s former counsel, James Girvin, also represented OPP Const. Michael Cunning. Cunning and a colleague found Missen dead in her home on Sept. 3 after a neighbour told police he had not seen Missen recently.
Because of his involvement, Cunning was a prosecution witness during Dionne’s 2016 hearing. This meant that in cross-examining Cunning, Girvin was actually questioning his own client.
A new hearing was rescheduled for Jan. 30.
Officers testified during Dionne’s 2016 hearing that Missen’s phone was off the hook when they found her and that the cord had been pulled out from the wall. The phone connected to 911 when an officer hit redial.
Like Missen’s sister, Dick believes the failures of the response extend far beyond police inaction.
Dick says dispatchers missed several opportunities to send first responders to Missen’s home.
“The failures on this call are just incomprehensible,” he said.
“Why didn’t they send an ambulance? Why didn’t they send fire?”
The OPP has also laid a deceit charge against Cunning for his actions following Missen’s death. Cunning allegedly gave false information to investigators from the Office of the Independent Police Review Director, according to a hearing notice from the OPP.
According to the document, Cunning spoke with Dionne on Sept. 3, and later told the OIPRD that the officer could not remember if he “attended a specific residence” after Missen’s 911 call.
“This was not true,” according to the notice. Cunning also testified during Dionne’s previous hearing that he had lost his notes about the Casselman incident.
Cunning’s disciplinary hearing resumes soon in Smiths Falls, an OPP inspector said in an email.