A Garda has been sentenced to 200 hours community service for attacking a drunk man in a Santa hat during an arrest in Dublin city-centre.
Donal O'Neill (aged 31) who has been based at Pearse Garda Street station in Dublin since 2006, had denied assaulting Tim Dowling (aged 29) at Pearse Street in the early hours of December 16, 2012, but was found guilty following his trial in June.
The case at Dublin District Court had been adjourned until today for a pre-sentence probation report to be obtained.
Judge Ann Ryan had viewed CCTV footage of the 12-second incident showing Mr Dowling, who was wearing a Santa hat, being shouldered and brought to the ground and kicked.
The prosecution argued that excessive force had been used by the garda when he dealt with Mr Dowling.
Defence counsel Karl Moran pleaded with the judge today not to record a criminal conviction against the father-of-two, adding that it could jeopardise his Garda career.
He asked the court to note the positive probation report, Gda O'Neill's charity work and evidence from his Superintendent Joseph Gannon who said O'Neill performed his duty in an acceptable and competent manner.
Counsel said it came down to a judgement call as to whether his actions were appropriate, but the court had found they were not.
Mr Moran also told the court Gda O'Neill accepts the court's finding and he asked the judge to note he was at a low risk of re-offending and has a family to support.
O'Neill has been “confined to barrack duties” since the case was referred to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) for investigation, the court heard.
Judge Ryan said O'Neill, as a garda, had a duty of care to the public which was paramount.
She said he was “not an ordinary defendant” as he held “a position of power” and she added that he, “had a duty of care that helps hold the framework of society together”.
“If the public cannot have satisfaction of knowing the public can trust you to behave in a manner appropriate, then the system of law and order breaks down,” she said.
She held that it wouldn't be appropriate to leave him without a conviction but she said she would not impose a jail sentence.
Judge Ryan convicted him and ordered him to carry out 200 hours of community service otherwise, she warned, Gda O'Neill would face a five-month sentence in default.
During the trial in June, the court had heard gardaí had already been aware of other incidents involving the victim, Mr Dowling, and officers approached him as he was leaning against a car outside Pearse Street Garda station.
Gda O'Neill, who had an unblemished career record, said in court he felt the man represented a threat to him and his colleagues.
He claimed Dowling would not take his hands out of his pockets and he believed he used reasonable force to effectively arrest him for interfering with the car.
Prosecution counsel Sinead McMullan argued that excessive force was used on a clearly inebriated person who was staggering, wearing a Santa hat, and did not know where he was while trying to get home.
The court heard Mr Dowling had been intoxicated and had already come to notice of gardaí from Pearse Street station.
A hostel employee told Judge Ryan that the man tried to gain entry but he said that he was not aggressive and described him as confused.
The court heard that later in the night Mr Dowling tried to get into a Garda van. Another garda encountered him later on and described him as “belligerent”.
A garda, who approached Mr Dowling just before his arrest, told the court he felt threatened by the complainant.
Prosecution counsel Ms McMullan argued the man was gratuitously assaulted, the force used was not proportionate and was “unreasonable in the extreme”.
She argued that the man had not been doing any damage to the car on which he was leaning.
Mr Dowling gave a statement to GSOC that he did not recall the incident but could identify himself on CCTV footage.
He had no physical injuries but went to GSOC because he wanted the incident to be independently investigated.
In evidence Gda O'Neill told the court the man would not take his hands out of his pockets and he feared he had a weapon. He swept Mr Dowling to the ground and kicked his arms to get him to take his hands out of his pocket.
He denied when it was put to him by Ms McMullan that he had knelt on the man's back or kicked his body with his garda issue steel-tipped shoes.
He rejected suggestions that Mr Dowling's hands were out of his pockets before or when he went down to the ground.
He did not accept when it was put to him by the prosecution that Mr Dowling was “completely out of it” and probably thought he car he was leaning on was a taxi and that he was just trying to get home.
Mr Dowling did not suffer injuries but complained of soreness afterwards, the court heard.