Police were justified in firing an AEP baton round at a man who confronted officers with a knife and a canister of CS Spray in east Belfast, an investigation by the Police Ombudsman’s Office has concluded.
The incident happened in April 2014, after police had been called to a domestic incident.
A woman reported that her former partner was outside her house and was refusing to leave. She warned that he may have taken drink or drugs and could be aggressive.
CCTV evidence showed that when police arrived the man removed his shirt and became confrontational. Officers spent half an hour dealing with the situation and encouraging the man to leave, until he eventually walked away.
Conscious that he might return at a later stage, police requested that local CCTV cameras be monitored closely. About two and a half hours later they were informed that he had returned and police called the man’s former partner to warn her.
Man said to have 'stuff to kill police'
She was initially unaware that he was back, but when police called her again a short time later, she confirmed he was outside and had told her he had “stuff to kill police” and wanted to “get a reaction” to get himself shot.
CCTV footage showed that as officers approached, the man pulled a small black canister and a knife from the back of his jeans, before replacing the knife into a back pocket or his waistband.
One officer recalled drawing his firearm when he saw the man reaching around to his back, fearing that he was reaching for a weapon. CCTV footage showed a number of red dots from police weapons on the man’s chest as officers approached from different directions.
Several officers recalled hearing colleagues warn that the man had a knife and ordering him to drop the weapon. Others were aware he had put the knife away and had the canister in his hand, while others believed he had dropped the canister and reached again for the knife.
As the officers approached, one discharged an AEP round. CCTV footage showed the man’s legs buckling slightly. He dropped the canister and rubbed his leg as officers moved in with weapons still trained on him, before he was put to the ground and arrested.
Officers reported that the man had shouted “shoot me” before the AEP was used, and asked officers afterwards, “why didn’t you shoot me properly?” The man later told Police Ombudsman investigators that he had no complaints about police actions.
Officer was concerned that the man’s erratic behaviour might result in live rounds being used, and said the use of AEP represented a less lethal option.
The officer who discharged the AEP said he did so as officers were unable to get close enough to use Taser without compromising safety. He was also concerned that the man’s erratic behaviour might result in live rounds being used against him, and said the use of AEP represented a less lethal option.
He added that he had considered the risk of ricochet, but as the man was in a narrow contained area he considered it safe to use the weapon.
He also pointed out that he had been unaware that the man had CS Spray, or he would have warned other officers not to use Tasers for fear of igniting the gas.
Enquiries revealed that the officer who fired the AEP was properly trained and authorised to do so. The Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, concluded that its use had been lawful and proportionate.
He also, however, recommended that police should review their guidelines on when AEPs should be used to ensure clarity for officers and consistency with guidance issued by the Northern Ireland Policing Board.