TASER use was justified, but police introduce new procedures after loss of evidence

Published Date: Jan 2017

The PSNI has implemented a number of Police Ombudsman recommendations after a knife went missing following an incident in north Down during which TASER stun guns were used.

Police were called to the incident in February 2015 by a woman who said her son had a large kitchen knife, was threatening a male in the house and had trapped her in the kitchen.

Local response officers arrived at the scene and managed to remove everyone to safety, leaving only the man with the knife inside the house.

They reported that he was threatening self-harm and said they spoke to him through a window in an unsuccessful bid to pacify him and encourage him to drop the knife.

After two police armed response units arrived, officers said the man moved to a bedroom and covered himself with a duvet with the knife still in his hand.

Fearing he was going to seriously injure himself, the armed officers entered the property. An officer then pulled off the duvet, after which another officer discharged TASER.

The discharge proved ineffective, as did two others fired by other officers as their colleagues struggled with the man, who was continuing to hold the knife to his throat.

An officer then used his TASER to deliver a “drive stun” (when the body of the weapon is pressed against the subject), which caused the man to drop the knife. One of the officers said he then took the knife and placed it on a kitchen worktop out of harm’s way, before returning to help his colleagues.

After three TASER discharges failed to properly connect, an officer used the weapon in "drive stun" mode.

The man was then handcuffed and arrested, and the Police Ombudsman’s on call Deputy Senior Investigating officer was informed about the use of TASERs.

However, when the investigator arrived at the scene the knife could not be found. The officer who had taken it to the kitchen said he had been advised that no arrest was planned – the operation was simply to prevent the man causing self-harm. He therefore did not think the knife would be required as evidence, and had simply moved it to a safe place.

The officer responsible for supervising and controlling the incident scene said he too believed there were no plans for an arrest, but said he had not been advised by the officer who had moved the knife where it had been placed.

The Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, recommended that both officers be disciplined for failing to secure the knife and the PSNI has since implemented the recommendations.

In addition, he recommended that the PSNI should introduce new procedures to prevent the loss of evidence in similar situations in the future. He also recommended that the incident should be referred to in police training to reinforce the need to preserve evidence.

The PSNI has since implemented the recommendations.

Dr Maguire also concluded that the use of TASERs during the incident had been proportionate, justified and necessary in order to prevent the man causing self-harm.

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