Charges against gardaí directed in four cases last year, GSOC report shows

GSOC sent 17 criminal investigation files to the DPP last year, but directions to bring charges against gardaí have so far been given in just four cases.

The GSOC Annual Report 2018 showed that the State prosecutor ruled against charges in nine of the cases, while decisions are awaited on four other files.

In addition, the DPP decided against prosecution in a case that was awaiting a decision at the end of 2017.

The four prosecutions include charges of assault causing harm, dangerous driving and assault.

Cases that concluded last year, relating to files sent by GSOC to the DPP before 2018, include one where a garda was given a two-year jail term for sexual assault.

He was served with dismissal papers but offered to resign and his resignation was accepted. In a second case, two gardaí received an adult caution for assault.

The 17 files in 2018 compared to 16 files in 2017.

The Garda Commissioner imposed 74 sanctions for breaches of discipline following complaints to and/or investigations by GSOC.

In addition, GSOC opened 17 public interest investigations in 2018 (14 in 2017).

These include two cases (still ongoing) in which GSOC only learned about the incidents in the media.

One concerned the temporary loss of a garda sub-machine gun from an official garda vehicle and its return by a member of the public.

A second concerned a member of the public gaining access to Áras an Uachtaráin, walking through the front door and confronting President Higgins. The front gate is manned by gardaí.

There were 38 referrals by the Garda Commissioner in situations where the conduct of a garda may have resulted in the death or serious injury of a person. Fifteen of these were fatalities, five relating to road traffic accidents.

Gardaí implicated were cleared in the bulk of cases. Only four files were sent to the DPP, which directed charges in just one.

Complaints

Rape complaint: A woman complained about a failure to investigate a reported rape. She made a statement to two gardaí, but it was not investigated nor any contact made with her afterwards.

An investigation by a garda superintendent, supervised by GSOC, found that the investigating garda took a statement but did nothing further.

Records showed the garda received 15 separate reminders to progress the allegation, but none were acted upon.

In its report to the Garda Commissioner, GSOC said there was evidence of breach of discipline against the investigating garda, but not against a second garda who was present when the statement was given. The investigating garda was found in breach of discipline for neglect of duty and fined.

Failure to investigate: Five gardaí were found in breach of discipline for failing to investigate crimes relating to harassment, criminal damage and anti-social behaviour (and of not recording the crimes). The reported crimes had spanned a three-year period.

A senior garda was tasked by GSOC to investigate, but due to a failure to progress the case, GSOC escalated it to a supervised investigation and a second senior garda investigated.

The five gardaí were found in breach of discipline. One of them didn't submit his file for seven months after the complaint (meaning it was out of time for a summary prosecution), while another garda failed to locate CCTV or witnesses and did not record the incident. Another garda failed to record an allegation of assault and verbal abuse and did not prepare an investigation file.

Complaint of assault: On foot of an allegation, a GSOC officer investigated a complaint that a garda assaulted a man. The officer found the custody area of the garda station was not covered by CCTV. Allegations were denied and there were no independent witnesses. On foot of a GSOC file, the DPP directed the garda be prosecuted – the garda was tried and found not guilty.

Sexual assault complaint: A woman complained about how she was treated when she reported being sexually assaulted. A superintendent was tasked with the investigation under GSOC supervision and found no breach of discipline. The supervising GSOC officer viewed the DVD of the interview. The officer said the garda complained of had “repeatedly interrupted the woman, had used inappropriate language and was aggressive towards the complainant”.

The GSOC report recommended disciplinary proceedings be taken. Seven months later, the Garda authorities told GSOC the garda was found not in breach of discipline. The disciplinary proceeding found that while the garda was “direct” in the language used it did not amount to discourtesy.

Neglect of duty: A complaint was made on behalf of a child injured in a road traffic incident, that a garda failed to investigate it. Numerous calls were made to the garda to make a statement. When the garda did, five months later, the garda did not know important details. Ultimately, the driver involved in the RTI was not prosecuted. GSOC investigated and found the member in breach of discipline for neglect of duty.

Gardaí were called by family members to a house where a man had attempted suicide: Gardaí decided to detain him under the Mental Health Act and handcuffed him for his own safety and that of others. The man became unresponsive and was pronounced dead in hospital. A GSOC investigation found no culpability with gardaí.

GSOC investigated a case involving a woman who, prior to her death, was in contact with gardaí: Following a call, gardaí located a woman, reported to be intoxicated, and drove her to a house she identified as her home. They left her there and resumed their duties. Sometime later the woman walked from the location and was hit by a vehicle and killed.

The GSOC investigation found the gardaí had responded to concerns about the woman and to ensure her safety had driven her home. GSOC said they had no reason to suspect that the address she gave for her home was incorrect. GSOC found no breach of discipline.

Gardaí referred a case to GSOC involving three members of a Garda Regional Support Unit who used their tasers in a family home: The RSU was sent to the house after a call that a person with a knife was threatening to hurt herself and her partner. When they arrived the door was opened by the woman who had called. Her partner then emerged with a knife in her hand. Gardaí demanded she drop the weapon and when she lunged at them all three members discharged their tasers. GSOC determined the discharge was lawful and that the RSU members acted proportionately in the circumstances.

Discharge of weapons: GSOC investigated a case where gardaí were attempting to intercept a car in which the occupants were believed to have a firearm. After arresting one of them, the gardaí fired their weapons believing they were in danger due to the aggressive driving of the second man. GSOC found the discharge was "legal and necessary".

2% of complaints by Garda Ombudsman resulted in action against Gardaí

Cormac O'Keeffe, Security Correspondent

Just over 2% of complaints investigated by the Garda Ombudsman resulted in either disciplinary or criminal action against gardai, figures show.

The GSOC Annual Report 2018 shows that of the 3,238 cases completed in 2018:

  • 2,104 (65%) cases were discontinued for a variety of reasons, including no independent evidence, the complainant did not cooperate or an initial examinations showed the complaint had no merit;
  • 549 cases where no breach of discipline was found and in a further 99 cases involving criminal investigation no misbehaviour was detected;
  • 14 cases where a garda who was subject to a disciplinary investigation retired or resigned
  • 74 cases where a breach of discipline was found and sanction applied, including advice (36), fines (9), warning (6), caution (10), reprimand (3), reduction in pay (10);
  • 15 files to the DPP – but directions to proceed were given in just two cases

The report shows there was a total of 415 criminal investigations in 2018, compared to 422 in 2017.

There were 3,107 phone calls to GSOC's low call number in 2018, up 23% on the previous year, but the amount of complaints opened (1,921) was down slightly on 2017.

The main complaints related to the conduct of investigations by gardaí (11%), road policing incidents (13%), customer service by gardaí (13%) and the conduct of arrests by gardaí (12%).

Two of the cases detailed in the report concerned investigations into reported sexual assaults. In one of them, the garda was found to have been in neglect of duty and in breach of discipline and, in a second, GSOC believed there was a breach of discipline but the internal garda disciplinary inquiry disagreed.

The report shows that it has taken longer to investigate cases – which has been a complaint of garda staff associations.

It shows the length of criminal investigations has grown from 115 days in 2017 to 147 in 2018, while for unsupervised disciplinary investigations it increased from 256 to 268 days.

Supervised disciplinary investigations grew from 273 to 281 days, while non-criminal investigations by GSOC increased from 203 to 253 days.


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