Published Date: 04.08.2011
The Police Ombudsman has concluded that police were justified in using a Taser against a man (Man A) who was threatening to kill himself, and who had also threatened officers and paramedics with a knife and other weapons.
Two officers and two ambulance crew members went to Man A's south Belfast house in the early hours of July 22, 2010, after he had made a call to Lifeline, a telephone service for people experiencing distress or despair.
Lifeline also informed the police that Man A had attempted to take his own life a week earlier.
When the police and ambulance personnel arrived at Man A's house he told them that he had taken a large quantity of paracetamol. The officers were informed that he would require urgent medical attention, but when they tried to persuade Man A to go for treatment he refused and said he wanted to die.
After about half an hour of negotiation, Man A took a wooden stick from beneath an armchair and used it to threaten police. The officers were able to remove the weapon with minimal force, and Man A agreed to go to hospital.
However, prior to going to hospital, he asked if he could feed his cats. An officer stood by the kitchen door while he did so. When he came out of the kitchen, Man A had a large kitchen knife and told everyone to get of the house.
The two officers and two paramedics left the property and Man A closed the front door. The officers then continued to negotiate with him through the closed door.
Mindful that Man A required urgent medical attention and that he was armed and acting aggressively, specialist police firearms units were dispatched to the scene.
They were ordered to carry out an emergency entry to the house if it appeared that Man A's life was in imminent danger, and also instructed to use non-lethal force to prevent him re-entering the property if he should come out of the house.
After further communication through the front door, Man A then opened the door and was seen to be holding a barbell weight and two short sticks. When asked to do so by police, he put the items down, though he continued to refuse to be assessed by the ambulance staff. He also confirmed that he was still armed with the knife.
Man A then took half a step back and placed his hand on the door as if to shut it, at which point an officer discharged a Taser at him. Another officer caught him as he fell to the ground as a result of the discharge, and he was then handcuffed and taken to Belfast City Hospital where barbs discharged by the Taser were removed.
As is standard procedure following the discharge of any police firearm, the PSNI informed the Police Ombudsman's on-call Senior Investigation Officer and an immediate investigation into the incident was begun.
The incident scene was mapped and photographed, and Police Ombudsman investigators made house-to-house enquiries and distributed witness appeal leaflets in the area. These enquiries identified a number of witnesses who corroborated police accounts.
Relevant police documentation and radio transmissions were also reviewed. It was established that the officer who discharged the Taser was appropriately trained and authorised to do so, and had properly signed out the weapon and ammunition used.
Having reviewed the evidence, the Police Ombudsman, Mr Al Hutchinson, concluded that the use of Taser was lawful, proportionate and necessary given the potential threat to Man A's life, and the danger he posed to others.