Farmer pepper sprayed by Garda during seizure of horse

Stock picture
Stock picture

Paul Deering

A 63 year old farmer ended up being pepper sprayed during a grapple with a Garda when his horse was being seized in a field by a contractor working on behalf of the County Council.

The Sligo Champion has reported that farmer, James Kilfeather of Breeogue was alleged to have been verbally abusive and aggressive when he arrived to find his 25 year old mare being loaded on to a horse box for taking away.

There was a dispute as to whose land the animal was on with the defendant claiming it was on his land and not that of his brother- in-law, Mr Gildea.

Garda Tony Lavin was present during the operation and he was confronted by Kilfeather, Sligo District Court was told last Thursday.

The two men ended up on the ground and the Garda had to pepper spray the defendant but the court heard it had no effect and that Kilfeather was able to get back up and try to run off and to jump over a nearby fence.

The incident unfolded at Breeogue, Knocknahur on April 21st last, arising from which, Kilfeather, now 64, was summoned for failing to comply with the direction of a Garda, engaging in threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour and obstructing a Garda.

Garda Lavin told the court that it was towards the end of the procedure to seize the horse from a field close to the road at Breeogue when he was approached by the defendant who became verbally abusive to him and the contractors.

Kilfeather was directed a number of times to desist and to leave the scene but he continued to be violent and abusive, said the Garda.

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"I was out on the main road and he began to push me all around the road," said the Garda, adding that Kilfeather wanted to impede the contractor and remove the horse from the horsebox.

"Eventually, I had to deploy pepper spray, the situation had deteriorated so much," he said.

Garda Lavin said Kilfeather told him they had no right to be doing what they were doing.

In reply to Mr Alan Gannon, solicitor (defending), Garda Lavin said he had received notification from the contractor that they were going to remove the horse. He had tried to resolve the matter through mediation previously.

On April 11th he had placed a notice on the land giving the defendant until the 13th to remove the horse from the field which belonged to his brother-in-law.

Mr Gannon said the defendant would say he put the horse into the field on April 1st and removed it on the 6th. He returned it on the 10th and was then allegedly assaulted by his brother-in-law and the horse was put out on the road, later being returned to the field by the defendant.

Mr Gannon said the Garda told the defendant on the 11th to remove the horse and that he did so on the 13th, placing the animal on his own land.

Mr Gannon put it to the Garda that the defendant felt he was unfair to him and had harassed him.

"He (defendant) will say you went in and took his horse out of his field and having got a text about the situation from his sister-in-law, he used a pair of binoculars to see what was going on?"

The Garda denied this.

"He will also say he went down to the road and the horse was in a horsebox at this stage and you began to push him away when all he wanted to do was for a vet to have a look at his horse"- Mr Gannon.

"The man was very unreasonable and was pushing me around the place" - Garda.

He further stated that it wasn't the case that he had impeded Mr Kilfeather from looking at the registration plate of the jeep which was taking the horse away as he wanted to know where the animal was being taken.

"He was give a direction a number of times to leave and he failed to do so," said Garda Lavin.

The defendant had to be arrested.

Mr Gannon put it to Garda Lavin that he had pepper sprayed the defendant in the eye, that he had knocked him to the ground and put his knee on his back.

"We engaged in what was a wrestling match on the ground," said Garda Lavin. He said he managed to placed handcuffs on the defendant while he was lying on the ground despite the struggle and then called for assistance.

Garda Lavin agreed that the pepper spray didn't have much effect on the defendant who tried to run off and jump over a gate.

The Garda agreed that the contractors did not get involved and were also not in court to give evidence as to what they witnessed. He hadn't taken statements from the two employees, a male and a female.

The defendant was subsequently brought to Ballymote Garda Station and was subsequently released on station bail.

Garda Lavin denied he had punched Kilfeather saying he did not know how he had received a cut to his nose. Witness also denied he had put his knee on the defendant's back.

Mr Gannon told the court that when the defendant returned home after his release from Ballymote Station the horse had been returned to the field.

Garda Lavin told Mr Gannon that he had not been assaulted by Kilfeather but that there had been "an awful lot of pushing and shoving."

The defendant, in evidence, agreed that there was an historic dispute with his brother-in-law over a field. He outlined how he put the horse into the brother-in-law's field on April 1st, taking it out on the 6th and returning it on the 10th.

Later that evening he found the mare on the road and he returned it to the filed and he was confront with the Gardaí being called.

On the 11th he was visited by Garda Lavin and a notice was served on him. The defendant rang a Garda Sergeant in Sligo about Garda Lavin.

The defendant claimed that Garda Lavin told him that he would be dealing with the matter and not the Sergeant and that he had an interest in the field.

The defendant said he took the horse out of his brother-in-law's field on the 13th as requested and put it into his own field.

On the 21st he got a text from his sister-in-law saying the horse was being removed. He was in his farmyard at the time and got his binoculars to look and he saw Garda Lavin removing the horse from his property.

The defendant had to cross two or three fields to get down to the road and when he got there the horse was already load on to a horsebox with an English registered jeep.

"I asked Garda Lavin what was my horse doing on the jeep and he started pushing me in the chest," he said, adding that he didn't know where his horse was going to be taken.

"I walked away and all of a sudden I heard, 'arrest' and I got pepper spray into the corner of my eye and I was knocked to the ground. I had my hands in my pocket at the time. He held me down and he took my hands and handcuffed me," said the defendant.

He stressed that he wasn't violent, that he was honest and not aggressive. He said he hadn't been able to get up off the ground and that the Garda gave him a hand up. The Garda then rang for back-up.

When he got to Ballymote Station he was brought to have his face washed and cleaned. There was blood coming out his mouth too. He added that the Garda there couldn't have done more for him. He was released with a charge sheet.

He headed off walking and rang a friend who collected him. He returned to his land at and saw that the mare had been returned. He kept it in his farmyard now.

In reply to Inspector Paul Kilcoyne (prosecuting), the defendant said the gate to his field was about 100 yards from his brother-in-law's field. He had no animal on Mr Gildea's property from April 13th.

The defendant said he went to hospital on the 21st and later told a Garda Jennings about what had happened. He didn't make a complaint abut Garda Lavin. He just told Garda Jennings what happened

Giving judgement, Judge Kevin Kilrane said it was a rather unfortunate incident with two different authorities involved.

He said it was always his understanding of the law that an animal cannot be impounded if the authorities are aware of who the owner is.

The Judge said he was satisfied that the horse was taken from Mr Gildea's land and that the defendant was mistaken in this regard.

Garda Lavin was present to prevent a breach of the peace and there was nothing unusual in that this and he was there for no other pruprose.

The Judge said a remark by the defendant suggesting the Garda had an interest in the land was just "thrown in" by the defendant in an attempt to "muddy the water."

It was a nasty comment to cast aspersions against the Garda and the Judge said he rejected this remark.

"It's ridiculous really," he said.

The Judge said that having observed the defendant in the witness box he could see that he was an emotional man and was on the verge of tears as he described how he saw his horse on a trailer.

Judge Kilrane said he was satisfied the defendant tried to push forward and interfere with the process and was in an animated state.

Regarding the arrest, the Judge said Gardaí must be allowed reasonable latitude in respect of the use of force. It was unfortunate that in the course of this arrest the defendant fell to the ground and received a minor injury to his nose and if the Garda had to sit on him in order to effect the arrest, "then so be it."

On the whole the defendant felt wronged. He had placed a horse on land not belonging to him in order to stake a claim no doubt. This was an indication of his state of mind, that he was determined "to keep his oar in."

The Judge said the defendant didn't have any previous convictions and was otherwise of good character.

Judge Kilrane applied the Probation Act and siad he hoped the defendant would be able to resolved his issue in a peaceful manner.

The Garda, he added did an excellent job in trying to keep the peace.

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