Garda Deming Gao says the incident on November 1, 2016, was the last straw. He was on prisoner escort duty. A prisoner was being detained in Dun Laoghaire Garda Station, due to be transferred later in the day to Cloverhill.
Garda Gao went out and bought a fast-food meal for the prisoner, as per standard procedure. He returned to the station, entered the public office, and placed the paper bag containing the meal on a counter while he signed in for it.
A colleague swiped the bag from the counter and threw it on the floor. Garda Gao asked him what he thought he was doing. The reply, he says, was along the lines of: “For fuck’s sake, Deming you’re poisoning the office with the smell of vinegar.” After further exchanges, in which Garda Gao appealed to him to back off, the colleague reportedly said words to the effect of: “Do not bring that shit into the office again.”
The incident occurred in full view of at least two other gardaí. There may have been a member of the public present but this has not been confirmed. There is no dispute that the incident did occur.
Garda Gao says he turned to the other colleagues present, who were sympathetic, one of them saying: “Don’t mind him.”
Later, when he finished his shift, Garda Gao realised that he felt humiliated. He complained to management and received a sympathetic hearing he says, but still no formal action was taken. There were efforts to get the colleague to apologise, but Garda Gao felt things had gone too far.
This was the last straw, the culmination as far as he was concerned, of years of bullying and harassment, most of which was based on his race and religion.
In an affidavit opened in the High Court yesterday, Garda Gao was described as having suffered “prolonged and persistent bullying and harassment and racial torment”. After he had made a complaint about an earlier incident of bullying, he believes he was labelled a “rat” by some of his colleagues.
Following the incident on November 1 last year, Garda Gao went sick. He has been out on stress-related illness since and yesterday applied to the High Court to have his status revert to “sick pay” as, since last March, he was taken off sick pay and he is currently receiving practically no salary.
Since the incident in question, he has also made official complaints of previous incidents during which he says he suffered bullying and harassment. In a number of cases, he cited colleagues who had witnessed that to which he had been subjected.
In investigation reports seen by the Irish Examiner, the ‘witnesses’ claim not to have witnessed that which Garda Gao described, or not to remember anything of that nature.
His allegations paint a severe picture of apparent institutional racism and a management culture in which complaints are not treated seriously. However, none of his complaints have been upheld. Neither is there anywhere on official records any suggestion that Garda Gao is making vexatious or fictional complaints. It’s just that in each case the outcome of investigations has been that the complaints have been unproven.
After attending Templemore in 2008, Deming Gao’s
first assignment on graduation was to the Dun Laoghaire district. At first, things went all right. However, in
a subsequent complaint, he said he was disturbed by what he regarded as offensive attitudes expressed towards women among some male members. At one point, he claims a colleague hacked into his Facebook page and uploaded offensive images.
In the complaints that he has made about race-related bullying and harassment, Garda Gao points the finger at just a handful of colleagues. Some others he mentions in positive terms, particularly in relation to their personal traits or attitudes towards him.
However, he also maintains that the alleged nefarious behaviour has gone unchecked, either by other rank-and-file colleagues or by management right up the line.
Among the complaints he made in relation to his time in Dun Laoghaire were:
- He frequently heard some colleagues imitating his accent on the Garda radio system and others laughing in response;
- At an open day for the public in the station in 2012, he was photographed in a US patrol car which was on display that day. The term ‘To Serve, To Protect’ was on the side of the vehicle. The photo was then put up on the station noticeboard, but a few days later somebody had scrawled over the term on the vehicle, changing it to ‘To Serve, To Deliver Chicken Curry and Chips’;
- His religious beliefs were mocked on a number of occasions, including the posing of questions such as: “What was Jesus doing with the 12 apostles in the desert, were they having sex?” When Garda Gao made it known he found this highly offensive, he claims one colleague replied: “I think Jesus may be gay. Ireland is a country with freedom of speech, I can say what I want”.
In total, Garda Gao made eight separate complaints from his time in Dun Laoghaire. In a number of them he mentioned witnesses to the incidents. None of the complaints were upheld. All of those against whom he made complaints denied it. Anybody who was mentioned as a witness either denied seeing an incident or couldn’t remember it.
In 2012, Garda Gao transferred to Shankill. At first, things went OK but, he says, two colleagues began to bully him after a misunderstanding over a shift detail.
These allegations include:
- On a number occasions one of these members has stated that he doesn’t like foreigners, including one time when he and Garda Gao had to attend at the house of an African woman;
- When Garda Gao attempted to reconcile with one of these members he was repeatedly told to “fuck off”;
- On one occasion, one of these colleagues berated him in the public office after a complaint from a member of the public that he had served a summons to an address where the person in question no longer resided. Although it had nothing to do with the colleague, he allegedly shouted at Garda Gao: “I’d like to punch your face into the wall.” Garda Gao says at least two other colleagues witnessed the incident;
- On another occasion Garda Gao and another garda of Chinese origin were in the public office when a person came in to make a complaint. According to Garda Gao, the colleague who was bullying him was present and commented that neither of the gardaí would know what to do but they could offer “curry and chips”.
- On at least two occasions when Garda Gao required assistance at the scene of a crime or suspected crime, the colleagues in question refused to go to his aid.
Garda Gao made complaints about seven incidents in total arising from his time in Shankill between 2012 and 2016. None of these complaints were upheld.
The picture his complaints paint is one in which some members of An Garda Síochána have bullied him based on his ethnicity and religion. This, according to the complaints, intensified after he made an initial complaint of bullying to local management in Dun Laoghaire.
However, each complaint individually has been found not to have an evidential basis. That, in turn, infers that no problem officially exists in relation to racial bullying within the force.
Yesterday, Judge Seamus Noonan granted Garda Gao’s application for a judicial review of the decision to remove him from sick pay status.