DPP withdraws assault charges against gardaí

Prosecution for using pepper spray ‘could have had serious consequences for gardaí’

Mon, Jan 6, 2014, 18:04

The prosecution of two gardaí for using pepper spray to subdue a teenager resisting arrest could have had serious consequences for gardaí and their ability to protect the public had they been convicted of assaulting the youngster, one of the officers charged over the incident said today.

Garda Brendan Dowling and Garda Fiona Sheehan were both charged with assault causing harm to the teenager on Cook Street in Cork on May 12th 2012 following an investigation by the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission into a complaint about the manner of the 16 year old’s arrest for public order offences.

But this afternoon, midway through the case at Cork District Court, State Solicitor for Cork City, Frank Nyhan informed Judge Olan Kelleher that the DPP had directed the withdrawal of the charges against both Mr Dowling and Ms Sheehan of Anglesea Street Garda Station.

Judge Kelleher said that on the evidence that he had heard to date that there was nothing to suggest that either officer had used their pepperspray in any manner other than in accordance with the law and no one should underestimate the difficult job facing gardaí in patrolling the streets.

Speaking afterwards and stressing he was speaking in a civilian capacity as he was suspended from the force for the day of the trial, Mr Dowling said the decision to bring a charge against him and his colleague over the use of pepperspray in the course of their duty had serious implications for gardaí.

“I believe this case was sending out entirely the wrong message - if we had been convicted for using equipment issued to us to help incapacitate someone who was at risk to themselves and to others, it would have had serious implications for every guard trying to do their job.

“We were charged with a Section 3 assault which carries a jail term and I know of one colleague who said if we were convicted, he would have handed back his pepperspray immediately - why would anyone respond to a situation if they felt they could face prosecution for doing their job.

“And it’s not just gardaí that this case could have had affected - ultimately the biggest loser in all of this would have been the public we serve in that if we had been convicted, then gardaí would have been reluctant to answer the call if they thought they might end up in court.”

Earlier outlining the state’s case, Mr Nyhan told the court that the prosecution would allege that Garda Sheehan had peppersprayed the teenager on Garda Dowling’s instructions after the teenager had been handcuffed following a pursuit through Cork city centre.

The teenager told the court he had been arrested by the two accused gardaí and handcuffed and put in a patrol car but was then removed from it by the two officers and put sitting on the ground and while lying on his back, the female officer peppersprayed him, resulting in a stinging in his eyes.

Cross-examined by Ms Sheehan’s solicitor, Frank Buttimer, the teenager agreed that he had been involved in a violent incident early at Paul Street shopping centre when a group of teenagers laid siege to the centre and he had kicked in a glass panel in one of the doors during the disturbance.

He initially disagreed with Mr Buttimer that he was a violent person but after accepting from Mr Buttimer that he had 22 previous convictions including eight for public order or criminal damage offences and two for common assault, he agreed that he could be aggressive.

He agreed he had initially resisted arrest and that he had headbutted the window of the garda car three or four times when he was initially placed in it but he denied he was violent at the time he was handcuffed and peppersprayed.

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