Around one fifth of complaints made against gardaí each year, or some 470 alleged incidents on average, involve claims around excessive use of force in the line of duty, or assaults on members of the public by gardaí when they are off-duty.
Investigations into such claims can take years to conclude and very few cases – usually in the low single digits annually – end with the garda involved being criminally charged and facing a trial. Most cases that do go to court end in an acquittal.
The vast majority of investigations into allegations of excessive use of force are carried out by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (Gsoc). While the Garda watchdog does not set out the conclusion of every investigation, it publishes case studies on some.
In one of these, a member of the Garda was accused of using excessive force while searching a suspect as he was being detained at a Garda station. A more senior garda reported the matter, and Gsoc conducted a criminal investigation.
However, the garda was arrested, charged and put on trial, and the jury could not reach a verdict, so a retrial was awaited at the end of last year.
In another case, an allegation of excessive use of force was found not to be supported by CCTV or witness evidence. However, a finding was made against the garda for “abuse of authority”, and the garda was fined.
In a separate case, a criminal investigation began after it was alleged that a member of the Garda had used excessive force during an arrest. Gsoc concluded the level of force was “appropriate and proportionate”, with no crimes or breaches of discipline found.
A further complaint related to allegedly excessive use of force by a garda arresting a man after an incident in a bar. This included “throwing him to the ground, pepper spraying him and dragging him while handcuffed, causing back, chest and hand pain”. The criminal investigation was discontinued due to a lack of witnesses and CCTV.
Gardaí on the scene “declined to submit accounts to Gsoc” but did provide their notebooks, which set out the nature of the force used and the “level of resistance displayed by the complainant”.
In another case, Gsoc carried out a criminal investigation into an allegation that gardaí rammed a man’s car while attempting to arrest him following an alleged dangerous driving and drug-driving incident. The man also alleged a garda used a baton to break his car window and physically assault him during the arrest. The Gsoc inquiry found the gardaí had acted in “a lawful and proportionate manner”.
Another case involved an allegation of excessive use of force by a Garda member who arrested a man in a dispute with a taxi driver over a fare. “Evidence indicated that Garda members acted appropriately and proportionately, and the case was closed,” Gsoc found.
In a recent criminal case before the courts, a judge cleared a detective accused of excessive use of force on duty and said he should have been “commended” for his actions, rather than prosecuted.
A member of the public alleged he was assaulted by a garda who he claimed pulled a gun on him, stood on his back and kicked him in the head, damaging a number of his teeth. However, the judge dismissed the case, noting it was based on varying evidence from witnesses, adding he was “unconditionally satisfied” the detective had no case to answer.
Another criminal case concluded last month almost four years after an alleged assault in which a garda was accused of hitting a man up to 30 times. The court dismissed the case after hearing the evidence of witnesses was at variance with the medical evidence, while the testimony of the only two witnesses for the State was contradictory.