Published Date: 23.11.2015
A police officer has been disciplined for writing a misleading note about an incident during which he appeared to aim a kick towards a drunk man’s groin in Derry/Londonderry on 12 July 2013.
The man was handcuffed and sitting on the ground being spoken to by two other officers when he was approached by the officer who swung his boot towards his groin. The incident happened outside the custody suite at Strand Road police station and was captured on CCTV.
A file was submitted to the Public Prosecution Service following the Police Ombudsman’s investigation, and the PPS subsequently directed that the officer be prosecuted for common assault. The case was heard in September 2014 and resulted in the officer being acquitted.
A District Judge noted that the other two officers could not confirm that the kick had made contact, that the alleged injured party had no recollection of the incident and that he had not made a complaint about it.
The other officers said they had seen their colleague’s boot come towards the man’s groin area, and although they had not seen it make contact, they heard him shouting out in pain.
CCTV footage was also recovered from within the custody suite. The man was visibly upset, emotional and agitated. He asked that the officer who had aimed the kick be kept away from him, stating that he had kicked him in the stomach and hit him on the head.
The man’s custody record noted that he was very drunk, and there was a suspicion that he may have taken drugs.
When interviewed, the man said he could not recall the “kick” incident, but said he had been attacked by the same officer in the back of a police car as he was being taken to the station.
He said his head had been pushed between his own knees and he was struck him on the back of his head, neck and the right side of his body.
The officer told Police Ombudsman investigators that the man had been aggressive and volatile. He said he had to restrain him as he was leaning towards the central console of the car, and did so by putting his forearm on the man’s neck and using the heel of his hand to move him away.
He also denied kicking the man, stating instead that he had stepped too close and his right foot had made contact with the man’s left inner thigh. He said it was unintentional and was unaware any contact had been made until the man shouted out. He recorded a similar account in his official police notebook.
When Police Ombudsman investigators pointed out that this account was at odds with the video footage, which appeared to show him swinging his foot, the officer maintained that the incident was accidental rather than a kick.
Following the officer’s acquittal at court, the Police Ombudsman made a series of recommendations to the PSNI for disciplinary action against the officer. These related to the excessive use of force, providing inadequate care for a detained person, bringing discredit on the police service, and inaccurate record keeping.
The PSNI responded that as the officer had been acquitted at court, Northern Ireland Office guidelines prevented it taking action for use of force, quality of care and bringing discredit on the service.
A misconduct hearing did take place in relation to the officer’s notekeeping, and he was found guilty of having made a misleading written entry about the incident in his official police notebook. A disciplinary sanction was then imposed.