For years, as a lawyer defending people accused of crimes, Mike King often grilled police officers in a courtroom about potential mistakes or wrongdoing in investigations.
Now, he will head a team that will get to conduct its own investigations of serious incidents and will even have the power to lay charges.
King has been named director of Newfoundland and Labrador’s first Serious Incident Response Team (SIRT), an independent group responsible for probing incidents that have resulted in serious injury or death to any person, sexual assault and domestic violence allegations, and other significant public interest matters concerning the police.
King nodded at the dozen or so people in attendance as he walked into the media centre at Confederation Building in St. John’s with Justice Minister Andrew Parsons, who made the formal announcement.
King will begin his five-year term on Sept. 30.
“I’ve always believed in the justice system and I believe in the need for public confidence in the justice system. This role certainly puts me on the ground level to help with that process.” — Mike King
It’s a step forward for the justice system in this province, which in previous years had to rely on SIRTs in other parts of the country, other police agencies and the bar to conduct independent oversight of serious incidents involving police.
“While we’ve been lucky up to that point, that well is drying up,” said Parsons, adding that outside agencies had sometimes turned down a request for help due to lack of resources and time.
“Thankfully, we were able to find solutions in those instances, but it wasn’t easy and, quite frankly, it’s not good enough. We need to be able to stand on our own and ensure there’s proper oversight when we require it and no longer rely on others.”
Parsons said he has been pushing to implement a SIRT for this province, which was a recommendation from the inquiry in 2016 into the death of Don Dunphy. Legislation was introduced in 2017 to allow the government to create the team, which was later determined to be a stand-alone model, rather than an Atlantic regional model.
He said $500,000 was allocated in the 2019 provincial budget toward the setup and establishment of the SIRT.
King will be responsible in choosing who serves on the team.
“For any police force to be effective in keeping people safe, public confidence is critical, and establishing a SIRT team will provide an increased level of transparency and help to ensure people have trust,” Parsons said.
He said King is the right person to help do that.
“Mike’s reputation in the legal community is stellar,” Parsons said.
In taking his new role, King leaves Sullivan, Breen and King (SBK) Defence firm (formerly Simmonds + Partners Defence), where his focus was criminal law and personal injury.
“For any police force to be effective in keeping people safe, public confidence is critical and establishing a SIRT team will provide an increased level of transparency and help to ensure people have trust." — Andrew Parsons
He was also the chairman of the criminal justice section of the Canadian Bar Association-NL branch.
King, 40, said his background has prepared him well for the position, having worked on both sides of complex cases, while maintaining a good relationship with the province’s police departments.
King — who was born in Carbonear and grew up in Salmon Cove — began his career as a Crown prosecutor, where he articled until his call to the bar in 2004.
In 2006, he joined Collins & Associates, under the late Bill Collins, and was with that firm until he joined SBK in January 2013.
King represented some high-profile defendants, including Raymond Newman, who was acquitted in 2012 of the 2007 death of his estranged wife, 28-year-old Chrissy Predham-Newman. King questioned the police about their investigation of that case. When most of the evidence in the case was thrown out in pre-trial applications, it left the Crown no choice but to cease proceedings.
“This is a unique opportunity that carries with it unique challenges,” King said of his position with SIRT.
“I’ve always believed in the justice system and I believe in the need for public confidence in the justice system. This role certainly puts me on the ground level to help with that process.”
There are 10 cases in this province being investigated by outside agencies — the most recent ones dealing with a case in Corner Brook, where an RNC officer fatally shot 27-year-old Jorden
McKay in his residence on Nov. 27, 2018. As with the Dunphy case, the Ontario Provincial Police investigation into McKay’s shooting was to be passed along to the Alberta SIRT for review when it is completed.
King has the discretion to have this province’s SIRT take over these cases, but he said he will make that determination once he’s settled in and has reviewed them. He said he will also ask the province’s police forces for input.
RCMP Chief Supt. Garrett Woolsey, who is also the criminal operations officer at B division in Newfoundland and Labrador, said King’s appointment is a good development for policing in the province.
“When the police get involved in issues — and we do, by the very nature of our work — there has to be a mechanism in place to inspire public confidence and tell the full story,” said Woolsey, a former Alberta SIRT team member. “The SIRT is the mechanism that will work for us.”
RNC Chief Joe Boland said the force has always been in support of a provincial SIRT and is glad cases will be dealt with more quickly.
“We talked about public confidence, but this is also about our organization and the people who work in our organization,” said Boland.
“A lot of these investigations have hung over our officers for a long time, and the complainants as well. … I’m hoping … these investigations will be done in a timely fashion, so that officers and the organization and the complainants can see a timely resolution to these files.”