Situations involving mental illness feature strongly in cases involving death or serious injury investigated by the Garda Ombudsman, the watchdog’s annual report shows.
Under the law, cases where someone died or was seriously injured in situations where garda behaviour may have been a factor are automatically referred to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission.
There were 52 referrals during 2015, with 15 related to fatalities. The GSOC 2015 annual report, details in yesterday’s Irish Examiner, documents four cases in some detail.
n Case 1: Gardaí were called to a house where a man was reportedly causing a disturbance. They arrested him under the Mental Health Act 2001 and put him in the back of a Garda van while clarifying what happened.
Some minutes later, the man was found unconscious. Medical attention was sought and he responded. When he was taken to hospital his condition deteriorated and he died.
GSOC interviewed all gardaí involved and witnesses.
“It was established that the circumstances fully justified the arrest and that the appropriate medical attention was sought without delay,” states the report.
It discovered the man died from cardiac arrest, due to excited delirium syndrome.
n Case 2: Gardaí came across a man after they were checking cars for insurance and tax. The man’s tax was out of date and gardaí decided to seize the car.
When they informed the man and asked him to step out, the driver walked to a nearby bridge and jumped over it, into a river. It was established that gardaí tried to rescue him using a lifebuoy and called emergency services. The man’s body was recovered a short time later.
GSOC interviewed the gardaí and witnesses and sought the man’s medical records.
“GSOC found the man had a history of mental illness and that he was described by witnesses as moody and agitated in the days before he died. Notwithstanding this, GSOC concluded that there was no reason for the gardaí to predict that he intended to take his own life.”
n Case 3: Gardaí were called to a home by relatives of a man reportedly distressed and aggressive. The gardaí were informed he had recently attempted to take his own life.
As the man was so aggressive towards gardaí, he was arrested for breach of the peace. A “cursory” body search was undertaken and he was placed in the back of a Garda van. He appeared to calm down and was not handcuffed.
At the station, gardaí discovered he had slit his wrists. Medical assistance was sought and a garda, a trained paramedic, treated the man. He was taken to hospital and treated.
The GSOC investigation found the decision not to handcuff the man “led to consequences for the health and safety of the man concerned and could have had health and safety consequences of the gardaí”.
GSOC said handcuffing was at the discretion of the garda concerned. But GSOC found that in the circumstances it was “of concern” that gardaí did not handcuff him to “mitigate health and safety risks”. GSOC recommended the gardaí receive informal advice.
n Case 4: Gardaí switched on their blue lights and sirens to stop a vehicle suspected of being involved in criminality. The car sped off and almost immediately crashed into another car. The driver of that car suffered multiple injuries to his legs.
GSOC said CCTV showed gardaí observed a safe distance with the suspect car and found no wrongdoing. The injured person expressed dissatisfaction with the way he had been treated by gardaí at scene and the level of contact afterwards.
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