A Police Ombudsman investigation has concluded that police were justified in using a Taser against a bare-chested man who was threatening a crowd with a hatchet in the Strathfoyle area of Derry/Londonderry in January 2012.
Shortly before 10pm on 13 January 2012 police received an emergency call from a member of the public who reported that a man was threatening children with a hatchet.
An armed response crew was sent to the scene, and its members later told Police Ombudsman investigators that they arrived to see a bare-chested man holding a hatchet as a nearby crowd shouted and jeered at him.
The officers said that when ordered by police to drop the hatchet, the man (Man A) instead turned his back to them and began walking towards the crowd.
The officer who fired the Taser told investigators that he then weighed up the options available to him before deciding that the use of Taser was the most appropriate means of resolving the situation.
He readied the weapon for use, aimed it at the man’s back and warned him that he was going to fire.
When Man A continued to walk towards the crowd, the officer pulled the trigger. The weapon, however, malfunctioned, and the officer pulled the trigger a further three times.
When still it failed to fire the officer said he aimed the weapon in a safe direction towards the ground behind Man A. He then began the procedure for disabling the weapon, at which stage it discharged harmlessly towards the ground.
On hearing the discharge, Man A dropped the hatchet, allowing officers to arrest and handcuff him.
After being informed about the discharge, Police Ombudsman investigators directed that the incident scene should be preserved until their arrival.
Members of the Police Ombudsman’s on-call team examined the scene later that evening and noted identification discs, which are ejected during a Taser discharge, lying on the ground. House-to-house enquiries were conducted, but no additional witnesses were identified.
The Taser’s electronic memory was also examined and found to contain no record of a discharge at around 10pm, the time of the incident. It did, however, show that the weapon had been put through a test procedure some three hours earlier.
The PSNI subsequently submitted the weapon and cartridge to the manufacturers for tests. These identified no problems, although the company did supply a modification for use if a weapon’s battery should ever come loose.
The PSNI has since told the Police Ombudsman’s Office that malfunctioning Tasers will automatically be sent to the company for testing.
Checks on the training records of the officer who discharged the weapon confirmed that he was properly trained and authorised to use it at the time of the incident.
Medical notes from an examination of Man A after the incident showed that he had sustained no injuries consistent with having been struck by a Taser.
After his arrest, Man A was charged with being in possession of an offensive weapon and when he subsequently appeared at court he was sentenced to four months imprisonment.
Having reviewed the evidence of the case, the Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, concluded that the use of Taser was legal and justified, given the threat posed by Man A while armed with a hatchet.
Dr Maguire said that the situation had not allowed the officers to reason with Man A, but required immediate intervention. He found that the use of Taser had been necessary and found no evidence of misconduct by any officer involved in the incident.