A Police Ombudsman investigation has concluded that police were justified in discharging Taser three times against a man who was threatening to jump out of an upstairs window after breaking into two houses while under the influence of drink and drugs.
Police were called in the early hours of the morning in July 2015 by a woman in Lisburn who reported that someone had broken into her home.
The distraught woman said she was upstairs with her daughter and could hear the intruder downstairs.
Police arrived within minutes, but by then the man had left the woman’s house and broken into the property next door, which was unoccupied as the householder was on holiday. A rear window was broken and the alarm was sounding.
Like all discharges of police firearms in Northern Ireland, the incident was referred by the Chief Constable to the Police Ombudsman for independent investigation.
Man was smashing furniture and breaking windows.
Officers told a Police Ombudsman investigator that they could see the man inside the second house holding two knives, one of which had a six inch blade. He was smashing furniture and breaking windows.
Six armed response officers were tasked and they tried to communicate with the man, but reported that he was highly agitated and emotionally and mentally distressed.
They said he appeared to be highly paranoid and did not recognise them or their vehicles as belonging to the police, despite them being clearly identifiable.
A trained police negotiator was sent to the scene and, in a bid to reassure the man and calm him down, officers gained the assistance of one of his friends and used a mobile phone linked to a loudspeaker to relay messages from his son.
After almost two hours of negotiations, the man began to climb out of an upstairs window. He had one leg through the window when armed officers forced an immediate emergency entrance to the house.
An officer then discharged Taser from the bedroom door, which had been barricaded by the man. This proved ineffective and the man stayed where he was, prompting a second officer to also use Taser. When this failed, the first officer fired again.
Despite being struck three times, the man continued to struggle and pulled the Taser barbs from his skin. Officers were, however, able to subdue him and he was handcuffed and placed in leg restraints.
He was then taken to hospital and released later that day, and was then taken into police custody.
A Police Ombudsman investigator went to the scene on the night of the incident and during her investigation seized evidence including police documentation and radio transmissions and a copy of the 999 call.
Phone operator engaged distraught caller in a calm and reassuring way.
The woman who called 999 was clearly distraught, and could be heard shouting several times “get out, get out.” The operator was found to have engaged with the caller in a calm and reassuring way.
Police records confirmed that the officers who used Taser were properly trained and authorised to do so.
Four witnesses said the man had barricaded himself in the house and was on drugs, and confirmed that he had remained agitated and violent throughout the incident. They praised the way police handled the situation, but said it was frustrating watching damage being caused to the house.
When interviewed, the man said he had been “high on substances” and paranoid, and had broken into the houses in a bid to find a safe haven. He said he thought police were “dressed up” and recalled that he had barricaded himself in, broke windows and threw things out to alert police.
He accepted that police had negotiated with him for almost two hours, and had no complaints about the use of Taser given his irrational behaviour.
The Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, said police actions had successfully resolved “a volatile, unpredictable and dangerous situation. “
The use of Taser was, he said, lawful, justified, proportionate and necessary in order to prevent harm or serious injury.