A GARDA sergeant has been fined but spared a jail term after an appeal court upheld his one of two convictions for sexually assaulting a female colleague while on duty at a Dublin station three years ago.
Father-of-two, Sgt Martin Woods (50), whose 29-year career as a Garda has been left in ruins, avoided a prison sentence but was told he must pay a €1,000 fine within four months otherwise he could be jailed for 30 days in default.
A judge heard that he pushed his pelvic region against the woman's behind, grabbed her hips and began gyrating while saying, “she likes it this way”.
He had been originally convicted at Dublin District Court last year and got two fines of €1,000 in relation to two counts of sexually assaulting the young woman, while on duty at a station on dates in March and June 2010.
Woods, who had pleaded not guilty, brought an appeal to the Circuit Court in Dublin aimed at having both convictions overturned but succeeded in relation to one count only where it was alleged he touched the officer's breast while telling her “wake up there” in June 2010.
Following the two-day appeal, Judge Sarah Berkeley today found him guilty of the second charge, which related to an incident in March 2010.
In evidence, the female officer said that she felt uncomfortable around the sergeant as a result of comments he had made previously. She said that once when officers were asked if they would work at the Dublin Horse Show, Woods had said her “Do you want to go to that? You are good at riding.”
She alleged that on a date in March 2010, she went into a room in the station to use a computer. She had leaned over a desk in a small space between two other officers and Sergeant Woods then came in to use radio equipment.
The woman alleged that the sergeant “pushed himself up against my behind, put his hands on my waist and started gyrating”. She also claimed that while he did that he said “she likes it this way”.
She told State solicitor Domhnall Forde that it lasted a few seconds but it made her feel “dirty, vulnerable, unsafe”. Afterwards she went straight to the toilets and cried before going back to work. She began to ring in sick because she did not want to be left alone with the sergeant, she said.
She said she did not have the strength to report it at the time. “A number of things were going through my head, someone would not believe me or I brought it on myself,” she explained.
“I lost interest in my work, did not want to be a guard any more,” the officer also said.
It was put to her that the remark he made to her was a stupid comment but she said “I didn't find it stupid, I found it insulting and degrading”. She agreed with defence counsel John Ferry that they had been standing in a confined area but did not accept that it was an accident when he came into contact with her from behind.
Two other officers witnessed that incident and one said that their colleague looked mortified as the sergeant pushed his groin against her buttocks, laughed and gained momentum.
However, they agreed that they did not report the incident.
In evidence, Woods told the appeal court that the he had gone into the room because he needed to use a radio to contact a garda car and as he turned around he accidentally bumped into the woman and lost his balance.
It happened “in a flash”, he put his hands on her hips to steady himself and as he left he said “did you like that?” as “a flippant throwaway comment”.
He explained that he now felt embarrassed about the remark but added that at the time it was made “to lighten the moment, to take the awkwardness out of it”.
He also strenuously denied that he had been “gyrating” against her.
The defence barrister argued that there was no evidence of intent to commit an indecent assault and that while Woods's conduct may have amounted to harassment it did not come into the sphere of criminal offending.
However, Judge Berkeley upheld the original conviction in relation to that incident.
During the hearing, the court heard that Woods became a Garda in January 1984, after which he worked in several stations and was promoted to the rank of sergeant 11 years later. He described himself as a “hard task master” who regularly reviewed the work of his subordinates and tried pass on his experience to help them to become better gardai.
His barrister pleaded with the court not to impose a harsher sentence saying the conviction will have drastic implications for Woods' career and his future.
Judge Berkeley ordered that the €1,000 fine would remain the same but allowed Woods extra time, four months, to pay it, otherwise he would be jailed for 30 days in default.
In his appeal, the sergeant was cleared of a second charge for sexual assault of the same woman in June 2010. The officer had said that she was on duty in the station and had been reading a file when Sergeant Woods walked towards her “and placed his hand on my left breast and said 'wake up there'”.
In 2012 Woods had also been convicted and fined at Dublin District Court for sexually assaulting another female officer by groping her leg before telling her “I'd say you're some screamer in bed”.
However, in January this year he had that conviction overturned on appeal at the Circuit Court where Judge Terrence O'Sullivan found there was insufficient evidence that the manner in which he touched the officer constituted an act of indecency and the remark said to her afterwards could have been interpreted a kind joke comment.