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Garda who 'rugby tackled' prisoner in cell denies assault

Eimear Ni Bhraonain

Published 20/12/2011 | 05:00

19/12/2011. News. Garda assault case in Waterford court. Photographed is Bartlomej Skwirut who alleged he was assaulted by Garda Tom McKenna.Photo Patrick browne
19/12/2011. News. Garda assault case in Waterford court. Photographed is Bartlomej Skwirut who alleged he was assaulted by Garda Tom McKenna.Photo Patrick browne
19/12/2011. News. Garda assault case in Waterford court. Photographed is Garda Tom McKenna who appeared on Assault. Photo Patrick browne

A GARDA has denied attacking a drunken prisoner and said he placed the man in a "rugby-style" tackle in order to prevent himself from being head-butted.

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Garda Thomas McKenna (27) appeared before Waterford District Court yesterday charged with assault causing harm to Polish national Bartlomej Skwirut (35) on June 20, 2010, at Waterford garda station.

Two gardai told the court that they saw Gda McKenna punching Mr Skwirut, who was in handcuffs at the time.

However, Gda McKenna denied he had punched the prisoner with his fist, saying that he used his body weight to restrain Mr Skwirut, whom he described as being "very violent".

Gda McKenna, from Cork city, told Judge David Kennedy that his father and brother were both garda sergeants and he "couldn't put into words" the effect the case had had on him.

The Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission investigated the incident, which is now being pursued by the Director of Public Prosecutions in the courts.

Suspended

If found guilty, Gda McKenna could face up to 12 months in jail or a fine, or both. He is also suspended from the force -- and has moved out of Waterford.

"I couldn't believe it the first day I was told and I can't believe it now," Gda McKenna said in reference to the allegation that he attacked Mr Skwirut while he was in garda custody.

The court heard how Sergeant Alan Kissane recorded the alleged assault after "another incident" had happened a few months earlier.

Gda McKenna was brought to the Chief Superintendent's office the day after the alleged assault and has been suspended from the force since.

Gda McKenna, who has been a member of the force for seven years, was in charge of prisoners in custody on the night of June 19-20, 2010.

Mr Skwirut, of New Ross, Co Wexford, and a second Polish man were brought into the station in a "highly intoxicated" state by gardai, who had found them at the Woodlands Hotel in Waterford. They were released without charge on June 20 but later received an adult caution.

In evidence, Gda McKenna said Mr Skwirut and the second prisoner were "very boisterous" and "aggressive". He said Mr Skwirut was kicking at the walls and shouting "release the handcuffs, do you want to fight me?"

Later that night Gda McKenna noticed one of the men trying to put what appeared to be his wallet down his pants to hide his identity from gardai.

He asked Gda Leahy to go in and retrieve it from the man but he heard them struggling. Gda McKenna said he "sprinted" in the door and placed one hand on Mr Skwirut's shoulder in a "rugby-style" tackle to stop him head-butting him. He also said the victim "jumped up and took a wild swinging karate kick" that came close to Gda Leahy.

Gda Leahy told the court that he saw Gda McKenna punching the victim with his left fist.

Judge Kennedy adjourned the case until Thursday when he will give his judgment.

Irish Independent

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