Published Date: 17.05.2013
A complaint that a police officer struck a man in the face and then denied it has been substantiated by the Police Ombudsman’s Office. The officer in question has been disciplined.
The man who had been hit complained that during an incident when police tackled him to the ground and handcuffed him, an officer used excessive force and slapped him in the face before taking him to into custody. He alleged assault and wrongful arrest.
Police Ombudsman investigators took statements from the complainant and another youth who had been present at the time. They examined documentation produced by the police for the purpose of prosecuting the complainant.
They also made enquiries with local shopkeepers and their staff to establish if the allegations could be corroborated. In addition, they obtained a statement from a motorist who saw the entire incident. This witness said that they saw a man and a police officer involved in an altercation, with the man refusing repeated requests by the officer to leave the area. This person said they saw the officer raise his right hand and slap the left hand side of the man’s face. The witness told investigators they spoke to the officer, who said the man had spat blood in his face – a statement that the witness challenged. He said he further challenged the officer over the slap to the face, which the officer initially denied but then admitted to.
CCTV coverage of the area at the time of the incident was recovered, but did not capture the actual ‘slap’. Investigators also contacted the doctor who examined the complainant at the police custody suite that evening. She said she had not noted any blood around the man’s mouth nor any mouth injury when she examined him.
Police Ombudsman investigators interviewed the police officer in question, during which he admitted to raising his hand and striking the complainant in the face. This was, he said, because he thought he had been spat at and wanted to prevent being spat at again.
The Police Ombudsman forwarded a file of its investigation to the Public Prosecution Service, which was returned it with a direction marked ‘No Prosecution’.
The Office then reviewed the case to consider whether the officer’s conduct fell below the standards of the PSNI Code of Ethics. This review concluded the officer’s initial denial that he had slapped the man was a breach of the Code and the complaint was substantiated.