Officer's use of force 'inflamed rather than calmed' situation in police cell

Published Date: 15.09.2014

A police officer who used unnecessary force on a woman in a custody cell has been disciplined following an investigation carried out by the Police Ombudsman’s Office.

The woman complained that the officer had nipped her in the arm in the process of moving her to the police cell and assaulted her by slapping her in the face three times when in the cell. 

Investigators obtained CCTV footage from the custody suite which showed the woman’s interaction with the officers, firstly at the booking-in desk and then as she was being walked along the corridor to the cells.  It showed the woman refusing to go into the cell, followed shortly after by the officer escorting her by taking hold of her left arm.

The woman claimed she was nipped at this point.  However, the officer denied this allegation and explained that he needed to use a degree of force to remove the woman from the booking area.  Investigators decided that the level of force used here was justified in the circumstances.

Once in the custody cell the woman alleged that she was slapped on the face three times by the officer.  During interview the officer stated that the woman was being aggressive and abusive, and that he had slapped her as he believed she was going to hit him. He stated that he did not have time to consider any other options. He stepped back as a result of the slap and this created a gap between the two.  He said he then left the cell. He denied slapping the woman more than once, and stated that his actions were proportionate, necessary and effective in the circumstances.

Witness accounts were obtained from the other officers present in the custody suite.  The CCTV camera from the corridor outside the cell was also viewed, but was found only to contain audio coverage of the incident rather than video footage.  A slapping sound could be heard on the recording, followed by the woman claiming that she had been hit three times.

Following a review of all of the evidence the Police Ombudsman determined that the offer had failed to take a graduated response to the situation before resorting to force and that he had failed to use other options open to him.  “I believe he could have taken control of her arm and restrained her, or he could have held her back with an open hand and used a little force to move her back.  I believe the slap was excessive and it inflamed rather than calmed the situation,” said Dr Maguire.

As is the case for all allegations of assault a file was submitted to Public Prosecution Service (PPS).  They directed no prosecution.  The Office then made appropriate recommendations to the PSNI who acted upon the information and disciplined the officer concerned. 

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