News

Garda cleared of wrongdoing in pepper-spray incident involving homeless man

NewsBy Alan Sherry
Garda: cleared of wrongdoing
Garda: cleared of wrongdoing

A GARDA Ombudsman investigation has cleared a garda accused of using pepper spray on a homeless man after he was handcuffed.

GSOC launched a public interest inquiry into the incident after a video was posted online amid claims the garda pepper sprayed a handcuffed homeless man as he was being arrested on Dublin’s Henry Street in March.

A video of the aftermath of the arrest was uploaded to social media by a student who filmed it on his phone.

The garda denied using pepper spray while the man was handcuffed while the homeless man said he had no recollection of the incident.

The GSOC report published the afternoon concluded: “Insufficient evidence of either a criminal or disciplinary nature has been established in this investigation. It appears that any force used by the garda concerned in this incident was justified, lawful and proportionate under the circumstances and no more than absolutely necessary.”

The inquiry has established the homeless was verbally abusive after the garda had asked the homeless to man to move on .

When the garda reached for his handcuffs, the man drew his hand up across his chest.

Read: Garda Ombudsman to investigate pepper-spray incident.

“The garda, who said that he feared because of this movement that he was going to be assaulted, took his incapacitant spray from his holster and warned the man not to assault him. However, a moment later, the man grabbed the spray canister and pulled it towards himself on the ground. The incapacitant spray canister had been attached to the garda’s belt by a safety lanyard and, during this struggle, the lanyard was ripped away from the garda’s belt.

“The garda then deployed his incapacitant spray at the man, which he reported had minimal effect, and attempts were made to kick out and punch at the garda. He sprayed the man for a second time and called for assistance using his radio.”

GSOC said the account was backed up by CCTV which showed the homeless man grabbing the pepper spray and trying to punch the garda.

GSOC said there was no evidence that the garda used pepper spray on the homeless man after he was handcuffed.

Investigators also used image and sound enhancing technology on the video of the incident which could determine if pepper spray was used after the man was handcuffed.

As part of the investigation GSOC also interviewed the homeless man in the company of two advocates from Focus Ireland and the Father Peter McVerry homeless charity but he did not remember being pepper sprayed.

“An interpreter was used as the man had limited English. His memory was poor and he could not remember anything of note concerning the incident, due to his heavy state of intoxication at the time. He made no complaint against Gardaí as a result and reported no physical injuries, other than having a swollen left hand and wrist, but could not explain how it had occurred. He had been taken to the Mater Hospital from the Criminal Courts of Justice on 14 March 2015 after suffering an epileptic type fit.”

GSOC also examined CCTV from around the area to determine if pepper spray had been used but could find any CCTV which could confirm that was the case.  

“The CCTV material provided comprehensive coverage of the incident and largely supported the account of the garda concerned. The picture quality of the CCTV images was not sharp enough, however, to identify the actual incapacitant spray leaving the spray canister, when it was deployed by the garda. “

Other witnesses were interviewed but none of them were close enough to witness the pepper spray being used.

“One witness, working on the day, stated that he saw the garda being punched by the homeless man. On the other hand, some of the witnesses thought the treatment by the garda concerned, and/or the garda members who arrived to the scene to assist in the arrest, to be heavy-handed.”