12: A complaint of abuse of authority, resolved by unsupervised disciplinary investigation


Background

The Garda Ombudsman received a complaint from a woman stating that, when she did not pay a bus fare for a child in her company, the bus driver called the Garda Síochána The complainant alleged that the child was snatched from her by a garda. Following this, she went to a nearby garda station, seemingly to complain or request assistance, leaving the child with the gardaí present. At the garda station, the woman was screaming and shouting, in what she reported as panic and distress. She reported being thrown to the ground and handcuffed by gardaí. She was arrested and released with a caution. She complained of abuse of authority by the gardaí concerned in the two related incidents.

Action Taken

The complaint was admitted and designated as a possible breach of discipline (as defined by the Garda Síochána (Discipline) Regulations, 2007). This meant it was suitable for unsupervised investigation by the Garda Síochána. An investigation was conducted by a Garda Superintendent (GSIO). The GSIO took a statement from the complainant and obtained documentation relating to the complainant’s arrest and copies of notebook entries from the gardaí who had interacted with the complainant during the incidents in question. The gardaí who responded to the initial incident at the bus stated that they were concerned for the welfare of the young child, who appeared frightened by the woman’s behaviour. The gardaí involved in the subsequent incident at the garda station stated that the complainant attempted to swipe at, strike and bite them when being arrested, which made the use of handcuffs as a method of restraint necessary. A statement in relation to the incident was also separately taken from the inspector who had reviewed CCTV footage at the time.

Outcome

The GSIO concluded the investigation and decided that, because of the erratic behaviour of the complainant, some use of force was necessary. He ascertained that she was only handcuffed and arrested when other courses of action in trying to calm her down failed. He assessed that the use of force was proportionate and, as a result, there was no breach of discipline on the part of the gardaí concerned.

The complainant was dissatisfied and requested that GSOC review the investigation. (S.94(10) of the Act affords complainants the right to seek a review by GSOC if they are dissatisfied with the results of an unsupervised investigation or with any disciplinary proceedings instituted as a result of that investigation.) A GSOC Senior Investigating Officer (SIO) was appointed to review the investigation. The SIO obtained a copy of all the paperwork in relation to the GSIO’s investigation and reviewed it. The review found that the GSIO conducted a proportionate investigation into the matter and that all reasonable investigative steps had been taken. There was insufficient evidence to support any of the allegations made by the complainant. It was determined that no further action should be taken in relation to the matter and the complaint was closed and all parties notified.

*This type of investigation is provided for by s.94 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005.