Published Date: 02.12.2013
A police officer who was alleged to have used CS spray on a man for no reason has been cleared following an investigation by the Police Ombudsman’s Office.
The incident happened when police attended a disturbance at a residential address. A man complained to the Police Ombudsman’s Office that during the incident the officer failed to give a warning that he was about to use CS spray while arresting an occupant of the house. The complainant alleged that he was also sprayed in the face himself, even though he was doing nothing wrong. The Office conducted a full, independent investigation into the allegations.
A number of steps were taken by investigators. They:
interviewed the complainant
interviewed others who were present in the house at the time
identified and interviewed the attending police officers
examined all police documentation of the incident
checked police training and policy documents on the use of CS spray
searched for CCTV footage which may have covered the area
Three people who were in the house at the time and said they saw what happened supplied statements to Ombudsman investigators. One witness said that the CS spray was sprayed without a warning, while another stated that the officer shouted the words ‘CS spray’ prior to using it. The third witness made no mention of CS spray in their statement. Two of the witnesses stated that they had also been sprayed with the CS spray.
Police documentation concerning the incident was obtained from the PSNI and reviewed. From this documentation the officer who used his CS spray was identified. This officer was issued with notification of the complaint and formally interviewed. During the interview he stated that police attended the address twice on the day of the incident in question due to complaints of noise. He stated that on the second visit he was at the front door of the house with a female officer when one of the occupants invited them in. Shortly after they entered the house they were told to leave, and according to the officer both were pushed by one of the occupants.
He then stated that while arresting the man who had pushed him, the man became violent. It was at this point that the officer said that he took the CS spray from his holster and warned that he would use it unless the man changed his behaviour. When the man did not calm down the officer discharged the spray, enabling him to restrain the man and take him out of the house.
The officer stated that he only sprayed the man who had pushed him and not the complainant. However, he acknowledged that some of the spray may have dispersed in the direction of the witnesses.
The other police officers who were present also supplied accounts of this incident to investigators. These accounts supported the officer who was interviewed.
Police records, including notebooks and a copy of the Command and Control log were also checked. The CS canister was examined, and its weight determined. The amount of spray used was found to be consistent with a short burst of the spray.
A check of the area revealed there were no CCTV cameras able to provide footage of the incident.
The PSNI policy on the use of CS spray was reviewed. While it states that it is preferable for a warning to be given prior to use, it is not required. Therefore it was established that it is not always necessary for the police to give a warning if they are about to use CS spray.
The role of the Police Ombudsman when reporting on cases is to make a recommendation to either the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) or the PSNI. As the allegation against the officer was of a criminal nature, the Office was required to submit a file to the PPS with all of the evidence it had gathered. After reviewing the file the PPS directed that the officer should not face prosecution proceedings.
Following this the Office conducted a further review to see if there was any misconduct on the part of the officer. This included whether the officer breached the police Code of Ethics or failed to follow the correct procedures. In the absence of clear-cut evidence in the case the investigator concluded that, based on the balance of probabilities, he was not guilty of misconduct.