Officer used excessive force during city centre violence: Police Ombudsman

The Police Ombudsman has found that a police officer used excessive force when he used two baton strikes against a man who was standing with his back to him during disturbances in Belfast city centre in August 2013.

The incident happened during a violent Loyalist protest against an anti-internment parade which had been due to pass along Royal Avenue on 3 August 2013.

The Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, launched an investigation after seeing the incident on police video footage recorded during the protest. He noted that at the time of the strikes, the man was standing with his back to the officer and was not acting violently or posing a threat.

The officer involved was identified in the video footage from the identification number of his helmet. He had submitted a Use of Force form four weeks after the incident in which he described using his baton against two men.

When later interviewed the officer accepted that this record was inaccurate. It referred there having been only one strike against the man shown in the video, and contained errors in the description of his clothing.

The officer attributed these discrepancies to “perceptual distortion” but maintained the force used had been reasonable and entirely justified. He said the man had been repeatedly pushing against the police shield line and refusing to comply with police requests to move back.

However, Dr Maguire concluded that even if the man had been pushing against the shield line just prior to the footage, this did not justify the use of force at a time when he was “not presenting any serious risk or threat.”

“The use of the baton in these circumstances was not the minimum appropriate response,” said Dr Maguire.

A file was sent to the Public Prosecution Service which directed that the officer should not be prosecuted.

Dr Maguire then recommended that the PSNI should discipline the officer for an excessive use of force and for the late submission of paperwork.

The PSNI decided not to impose any disciplinary sanction in relation to the use of force, stating that it could be deemed justified and proportionate in achieving the officer’s aims at the time.

However, it did impose an informal disciplinary sanction in relation to the late submission of paperwork.

Dr Maguire remains of the view that the use of force was excessive in the circumstances.

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