A jury has convicted a garda of assaulting an RTÉ cameraman during street protests.
Garda Sean Lucey (42) was detailed to a public order unit to deal with confrontations between anti-racism protesters and gardaí who were trying to prevent protesters from getting to supporters of a “far right group”.
Garda Lucey had pleaded not guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to one count of assault causing harm to Colm Hand at Cathedral Street, Dublin city centre on February 6, 2016 and to damaging his camera.
Mr Lucey, who has an address in south Dublin, is a garda who has been stationed at Crumlin Village and Sundrive Road garda stations.
On the fifth day of the trial, the jury returned a verdict of guilty on the count of assault causing harm after deliberating for two hours and 46 minutes. The jury found Lucey not guilty of criminal damage.
Judge Melanie Greally thanked the jury for their attention and commitment to the case and adjourned the matter for sentencing on February 7, 2020. She remanded Garda Lucey on continuing bail to that date.
During the trial, Mr Hand said that he was working with reporter Colman O'Sullivan on the day and they were to cover anti-racism protests on O'Connell Street.
The witness said that he and Mr O'Sullivan followed people who were running towards Cathedral Street. He said there was a confrontation between gardaí and protesters on one half of the road but a garda line was forming across the entire road.
He said the scene was tense and that a garda went to use his baton and he began shouting to Mr O'Sullivan “back back back”. He said he was reversing and moving parallel to the garda line when he felt the camera being violently hit by a baton from behind.
“I turned to my right. I said, you shouldn't hit cameras or something like that,” he said. He said he was no longer looking through the camera eye piece and he then saw someone coming out of the corner of his eye and was struck in the groin.
He said it was really painful and he was only able to continue filming for a very brief period. He said he saw the garda who struck him and took his badge number.
'Entitled to strike the upper arms or legs'
Garda Michael Dibley testified during the trial that he was also part of the public order unit that day and said he was extremely concerned for the safety of himself and colleagues. He said the situation was getting extremely hostile and gardaí were under extreme pressure as the crowd got bigger.
He said had never encountered as hostile a situation in over ten years of duty. He agreed that those attacking gardai had their faces covered.
He said gardaí were entitled to keep people at a distance of six feet away and could use their discretion to employ the baton if they felt someone was coming into that area, was a threat or was trying to force through their barrier. They were entitled to strike the upper arms or legs, he said.
In her closing speech to the jury, Fiona McGowan BL, prosecuting, said there was no question that footage taken on the day showed gardaí gesticulating and saying “get back”. She submitted that Mr Hand could be seen complying with that direction and retreating.
Ms McGowan told the jury they could see on the footage that when Mr Hand is retreated, Garda Lucey steps forward from the garda line and strikes him with the baton into his groin after first hitting his camera.
In his closing speech to the jury, James Dwyer SC, defending, told the jury that they must “leave at the door” any general views they may have good or ill towards An Garda Síochána. He said his client has almost two decades of clean record of service to the state.
Mr Dwyer said a big issue in this trial was the lawful use of force. He said if Garda Lucey honestly believed he was acting using lawful force, the jury must give him the benefit of the doubt on both charges.