Published Date: Dec 2016
A Police Officer was right to use a TASER stun gun against a man armed with a samurai sword in Belfast city centre in August 2015, an investigation by the Police Ombudsman’s Office has concluded.
Police were informed that the man was swinging the sword about and threatening members of the public at a fast food outlet.
The incident was referred by the Chief Constable to the Police Ombudsman’s Office for independent investigation.
Officers told Police Ombudsman investigators that when they arrived at the scene, a member of the public pointed the man out to them. He was accompanied by another male and appeared to be concealing something in the leg of his trousers. Both were walking towards the officers.
An officer said he then removed his police issue rifle from his shoulder and shouted “stop, armed police”, at which point the man identified as having the sword ran off down a side street.
The officer gave chase, drawing his TASER stun gun as he did. He said he did not have time to reshoulder his rifle, so carried it in his left hand as he ran, while continuing to shout “stop, armed police.”
CCTV footage obtained by Police Ombudsman investigators confirmed the officer’s account that the man then ran into another side street, which was narrow and poorly lit.
Officer heard footsteps following him as he ran into narrow, dimly-lit street.
The officer said he became aware of other footsteps behind him, which he knew were not those of his colleagues, and CCTV showed a number of other men running behind him.
He added that as he did not have any hands free, he was unable to use his radio to update the police control room of his position.
The officer recalled that the man then slowed down, allowing him to close the gap and use his TASER. The man fell to the ground, but the officer said his arm appeared to move towards his trousers, so he used TASER a second time.
The officer then secured his rifle before approaching and restraining the man and finding the sword concealed in his trouser leg. He was then arrested and taken into police custody.
CCTV footage showed that the man appeared to have slowed to a stop and raised his arm before the TASER was used.
He later lodged a complaint with the Police Ombudsman’s Office, stating that although he did have a samurai sword, TASER had been used after he had stopped and given himself up.
When interviewed, the officer said he used TASER as he considered the situation to be high risk, in that the man was armed and running towards a heavily populated area.
In addition, he did not know if the man was stopping to give himself up, to catch his breath before making off again, or to prepare for an attack. He was also alone and unsure of whether the people who had been following him were accomplices of the suspect.
The officer described the use of TASER as a split second decision based on his assessment of the risks, and said its use had prevented the need for the use of lethal force if the man had attacked.
Examination of police records also showed that the officer was properly trained and authorised to use TASER at the time of the incident.
Having reviewed the evidence, the Police Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire, concluded that the use of TASER had been lawful, proportionate and necessary. He also rejected the man’s complaint that the officer had used excessive force.