Officer justified in firing at dog in Newry

Published Date: 28.04.2014

The Police Ombudsman has found that a police officer was justified in firing a shot at a dog he said attacked him while he was responding to a report of a disturbance.

The incident happened in Newry shortly before 6pm on 29 August 2011, as two officers went to a house in response to the call. In line with standard procedure, the Police Ombudsman’s Office was informed about the use of live fire and launched an immediate investigation.

When interviewed, the officer who fired the shot told Police Ombudsman investigators that he heard shouting and barking as he approached the front door of the house, which had a “Beware of the Dog” type sign mounted on it.  

Having knocked the door, he said it opened and two dogs - a large boxer and a smaller mongrel - ran out past him into the front garden.

The officer said the boxer launched into a sustained and aggressive attack on him. He said he genuinely believed the dog would injure him, and he fired a single round to prevent injury to himself or anyone else. The dog then ran back into the house.

Officer 'knew grass would absorb impact of round and prevent ricochet.' 

The officer added that he noted that the backdrop to the shot was a grass lawn, which he knew would absorb the impact of the round and prevent anyone else being endangered by a ricochet.

A woman living at the house later lodged a complaint with the Police Ombudsman’s Office that an officer had assaulted her by pushing her in the chest, causing her to fall to the ground, where she was unconscious for a time.

The officer who fired the shot denied this, stating that he had not seen her falling to the ground, but suggesting that she may have fainted. He said he and his colleague had given her first aid and summoned an ambulance.

The officer’s colleague corroborated this account, stating that the boxer dog had been so aggressive that he had drawn his pistol as the dog ran towards him, before reholstering the gun after it passed. He said his colleague had been subjected to a sustained attack by the dog before firing the shot.

He too denied assaulting the woman and suggested that she may have fainted.

After being alerted to the incident, Police Ombudsman investigators went to the scene, which was photographed and examined. There were no CCTV cameras in the area, but six witnesses responded to a witness appeal.

Their accounts varied: some suggested the officer had fired a single shot, others believed two or three rounds had been discharged.

There were also discrepancies in how the behaviour of the boxer dog was described. Some witnesses said it had been playful towards the officer, another said it had been aggressive and appeared to be ready to bite the officer.

One witness recalled seeing the woman being pushed to the ground by an officer, but others did not see any push and had only seen the woman lying unconscious on the ground.

Shot entered dog's open mouth, struck teeth and exited through a cheek.

A vet who examined the dog said it was likely that the animal had been struck by a single round which had entered its open mouth, struck its teeth, before exiting through a cheek.

An examination of police ammunition records showed that only one round had been fired by the officer. His training records confirmed that he was trained and authorised to use the weapon at the time of the incident.

A file of evidence was sent to the Public Prosecution Service, which directed that neither officer should be prosecuted in relation to either the discharge of the shot or the alleged assault.

The Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, then considered the evidence for potential disciplinary issues, but concluded on the balance of probabilities that there was insufficient evidence to prove any misconduct offence by either officer.

Dr Maguire also concluded that the discharge of the shot during the incident had been “lawful, proportionate and necessary” given the threat posed by the aggressive dog.

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