Suspected abductor shooting: Gardaí trained to shoot at ‘centre mass’ of body

Gsoc examining shooting of Mark Hennessy who was believed to be carrying a knife

A video clip has emerged on social media showing Mark Hennessy on the day he purchased the SUV suspected to be the vehicle used in the abduction of Jastine Valdez. Hennessy was shot dead by gardai in Cherrywood Business Park on Sunday.


Investigators from the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (Gsoc) have begun examining the circumstances surrounding the shooting dead of an abduction suspect by a detective on Sunday night.

A Gsoc team were deployed to the scene of the shooting dead of Mark Hennessy in Cherrywood Business Park in south Dublin late on Sunday night where it began collecting evidence and taking photographs.

It is understood the detective who fired the fatal shots has given a preliminary interview.

Jastine Valdez was abducted in Enniskerry on Saturday evening after she alighted from a bus in the village and began walking her usual route home past the entrance to the Powerscourt Estate.

Witnesses reported seeing her being bundled into a Nissan Qashqai car which was later traced to the home of Hennessy in Woodbrook a few kilometres away in Bray.

A spokesman said the investigation is a legal requirement under section 102 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005, “which provides for independent investigation of any matter that appears to indicate that the conduct of a member of the Garda Síochána may have resulted in the death of, or serious harm to, a person”.

In 2016, Gsoc received 51 such referrals of which 12 related to fatal incidents. Most of these related to road traffic incidents or incidents arising from the arrest of suspects.

Most investigations tend to conclude quickly after Gsoc decides there was no evidence of misbehaviour or criminality by a garda. If there is evidence of wrongdoing investigators can open a wider inquiry and recommend criminal charges be filed by the Director of Public Prosecutions.

In the past few years Gsoc has led several criminal prosecutions against gardaí for assault offences, most of which ended in acquittal before a jury. However it has yet to charge a Garda with injuring or killing someone through the use of a firearm.

Before resorting to the use of deadly force, officers are obliged to consider whether the situation could be de-escalated by holstering the firearm or even withdrawing

As well as recommending criminal charges, Gsoc can, in less serious matters, refer the matter to garda management for internal disciplinary proceedings.

Hennessy (40) was shot dead by an armed detective in Cherrywood at about 8pm on Sunday night. Searches are continuing for student Jastine Valdez (24) who gardaí believe was abducted by Hennessy the previous day.

It is understood Hennessy was armed with a Stanley blade and had threatened the detective.

Garda code

Gsoc investigators will be tasked with determining if the detective complied with the Garda code in the decision to use the firearm in the first place. The code states: “In order that the discharge of firearms may be justified in any particular case, it must be shown that the intention of the member firing was to achieve a legal purpose and that all other means of achieving this purpose had been exhausted before firing”.

Garda rules state the use of a firearm must be a last resort. Before resorting to the use of deadly force, officers are obliged to consider whether the situation could be de-escalated by holstering the firearm or even withdrawing from the area entirely.

Gsoc officers will also determine whether the detective acted in line with their training. In situations where deadly force must be used, gardaí are instructed to fire at “centre mass” ie. the torso. There are two reasons gardaí are trained like this.

The centre mass is the biggest target, so the officer is less likely to miss. The targets used by firearms gardaí in training consist only of cardboard upper torsos.

Trainees get more points the closer to the centre of the torso they hit. Ordinary firearms gardaí, like detectives, must achieve a 65 per cent accuracy rating to pass that module of their training. Members of the high-trained Emergency Response Unit (ERU) must achieve 80 per cent.

Targeting the centre mass also increases the chance of “stopping the threat”, one garda source said, as the torso contains several vital organs. Officers are not trained to kill but they are trained to shoot until there is no longer a threat to life. The outcome is often the same.

Use of Tasers

Aiming for the centre mass also increases the likelihood of the threat being stopped without having to fire more than one round. Officers are trained to reassess the situation after every shot but to keep shooting until there is no more threat.

The logic of this training was seen during the Abbeylara siege in Co Longford which ended with the death of John Carthy at the hands of armed gardaí in 2000.

The use of a less-than-lethal weapon like a Taser was not available to the detective who shot Hennessy who was armed only with a handgun

The first officer to open fire aimed at Carthy’s legs as he walked up the road armed with a loaded shotgun. None of his shots stopped the man as they failed to hit bone or the nervous system. Carthy only stopped when shot in the torso.

Indeed the Barr Tribunal which investigated the incident noted the first officer to open fire had deviated from his training by aiming for the legs.

The use of a less-than-lethal weapon like a Taser was not available to the detective who shot Hennessy who was armed only with a handgun. Although the ERU and other specialist units are issued with Tasers, ordinary detectives are not.

The fact that Hennessy was armed with a knife and not a gun does not necessarily mean the decision to shoot him was unjustified.

Firearms officers are taught that blades can be just as deadly as guns in close quarters. In the US many police forces use the “21 foot rule”; this dictates a knife-wielding attacker within 21 feet (6.4 metres) can complete a fatal attack before an officer can draw and fire their weapon.

Garda training is not as prescriptive but officers are instructed that firearms can be deployed if the suspect is armed with a blade and is an immediate threat.

The decision to fire a gun is a matter for the individual garda alone. It is up to them to assess the threat to others and to themselves. An officer cannot be ordered to open fire by a superior.