Officer disciplined over unlawful stop and search

Published Date: 13.08.2014

A police officer has been disciplined after an investigation by the Police Ombudsman’s Office upheld a complaint from a man who was stopped and searched unlawfully and accused of an offence he did not commit.  A further allegation that the officer was unprofessional towards the man was also upheld.

The complainant stated that the police officer approached him to speak about general road safety after he had observed him crossing the road.  According to the man, the officer accused him of not taking enough care when doing so and cautioned him with the offence of ‘jaywalking’. 

When the man questioned why he had been charged, he alleged that the officer then decided to search him for no reason.  He stated that he was detained for almost ten minutes, throughout which the officer behaved unprofessionally towards him.

Ombudsman investigators obtained CCTV footage of the incident which was captured from nearby cameras.  They also listened to police radio transmissions between the officer and the control room.  Once these had been checked they interviewed the officer concerned.

The officer stated he was walking back to the police station when he noticed the man.  He stated that he had walked out carelessly into the road, causing the traffic to stop.  He said that he thought it necessary to speak to him about general road safety but stated at no time did he caution him for any offence.

The officer stated that the man then demanded his details and took some cigarette papers out of his pocket, which he presumed he was going to write on.  The officer said that given the man’s demeanour and the fact that he had produced cigarette papers he had enough grounds to conduct a search under Section 23 of the Misuse of Drugs Act.

The officer stated that he remained professional throughout his dealings with the man at all times, and denied all of the allegations made.

Based on the CCTV footage and all of the other available evidence, the Ombudsman concluded that the officer should not have stopped the man and questioned him about ‘jaywalking’.  Even though the officer denied issuing a formal caution, the stop was based on an incorrect understanding of the term.  It was also clear from the CCTV that the traffic did not stop to allow the man to cross the road. 

The Police Ombudsman concluded that the officer’s reasonable grounds test was not met and that he did not have sufficient cause to search the man.

The complaint that there was an unlawful stop and search was also upheld.  The Police Ombudsman concluded that the officer’s reasonable grounds test was not met and that he did not have sufficient cause to search the man.

For the third allegation, that the officer was unprofessional in his behaviour, the role of the Police Ombudsman is to consider whether an officer’s behaviour fell below the standard set out in the Police Code of Ethics.  The evidence available indicated that this was the case.  The Police Ombudsman found that when examining this complaint the overall conduct and credibility of the officer was in breach of Article 7 of the PSNI Code of Ethics, which requires officers to behave with integrity at all times.

This office made the appropriate disciplinary recommendation to the PSNI who have acted upon the information and as a result the officer concerned has been disciplined.


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