Saturday 17 March 2018

Garda guilty of attack on drunk man in Santa hat

Garda Donal O’Neill, who has been given community service after being found guilty of assaulting a drunk man
Garda Donal O’Neill, who has been given community service after being found guilty of assaulting a drunk man

Tom Tuite

A garda has been sentenced to 200 hours community service for attacking a drunk man in a Santa hat during an arrest.

Donal O'Neill (31), who has been based at Pearse Street station in Dublin since 2006, had denied assaulting Tim Dowling (29) at Pearse Street in the early hours of December 16, 2012, but was found guilty following his trial in June.

The case at Dublin District Court had been adjourned until yesterday for a pre-sentence probation report to be obtained.

Judge Ann Ryan had viewed CCTV footage of the 12-second incident showing Mr Dowling, who was wearing a Santa hat, being shouldered and brought to the ground and kicked. The prosecution argued that excessive force had been used by the garda when he dealt with Mr Dowling.

Defence counsel Karl Moran pleaded with the judge yesterday not to record a criminal conviction against the father-of-two adding that it could jeopardise his career.

He asked the court to note the positive probation report, Gda O'Neill's charity work and evidence from his Superintendent Joseph Gannon who said O'Neill performed his duty in an acceptable and competent manner.

Counsel said it came down to a judgment call as to whether his actions were appropriate but the court had found they were not. Mr Moran also told the court Gda O'Neill accepts the court's finding and he asked the judge to note he was at a low risk of re-offending and has a family to support.

O'Neill has been "confined to barrack duties" since the case was referred to the Garda Síochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) for investigation, the court heard.

Judge Ryan said O'Neill, as a garda, had a duty of care to the public which was paramount. She said he was "not an ordinary defendant" as he held "a position of power".

"If the public cannot have satisfaction of knowing the public can trust you to behave in a manner appropriate, then the system of law and order breaks down," she said.

She held that it wouldn't be appropriate to leave him without a conviction but she said she would not impose a jail sentence.

She convicted him and ordered him to carry out 200 hours of community service otherwise.

During the trial in June, the court had heard gardaí had already been aware of other incidents involving Mr Dowling, and officers approached him as he was leaning against a car outside the garda station. The court heard Mr Dowling was intoxicated at the time.

O'Neill, who had an unblemished career record, said in court he felt the man represented a threat to him and his colleagues. He claimed Dowling would not take his hands out of his pockets and he believed he used reasonable force.

Irish Independent

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