Tuesday 20 August 2019

Man awarded €1.1m over wrongful arrest on same night fiancée beaten in street attack

Nightmare over: Gerald Jennings and Martha Kowalczyk leaving the Four Courts after yesterday’s award. Photo: Collins Courts
Nightmare over: Gerald Jennings and Martha Kowalczyk leaving the Four Courts after yesterday’s award. Photo: Collins Courts

Tim Healy

A man wrongfully arrested the same night his fiancée was savagely beaten by another man in a random street attack has been awarded more than €1.1m by a High Court jury.

Gerald Jennings (34), a property manager and former minor footballer for Carlow, sued the Garda Commissioner and the State over his arrest on December 2, 2012, in Carlow town.

It was claimed gardaí wrongly suspected him of having attacked his fiancée Martha Kowalczyk when in fact it was carried out by Colvin Keogh (26), a student from The Paddocks, Carlow, who was later jailed for seven years for assault causing serious harm and sexual assault. 

The State denied the claims and said reasonable force was used to detain Mr Jennings, who resisted arrest.

Following an 11-day case, the jury found the actions of gardaí were not reasonably necessary for the purpose of effecting a lawful arrest of Mr Jennings in good faith for the offences of breach of the peace and being drunk and disorderly.  They also found his detention was unlawful.

The jury assessed general damages at €819,550  and exemplary damages at €333,000. A stay on the award was granted in the event of an appeal on condition €150,000 is paid to Mr Jennings. He was also awarded costs.

The court had heard that as a result of his treatment, including being pepper-sprayed in the eyes three times, Mr Jennings was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress.

The incident came after gardaí were called to deal with the attack on his fiancée, beautician Ms Kowalczyk. 

She refused to go to hospital in an ambulance until gardaí checked on Mr Jennings first. She feared her attacker had got the keys to her apartment where a short time earlier she had left Mr Jennings sleeping.

He said his "nightmare" started when he was woken by three gardaí, who asked him to go out to see his girlfriend in the ambulance. Sgt Theresa Phillips began to caution Mr Jennings after one of the other officers noticed a handbag which the garda understood from Ms Kowalczyk had been taken in the attack.

Mr Jennings, who gardaí said was drunk and abusive, demanded to know what was going on. He went out to the street, was pepper-sprayed and handcuffed. He denied he was abusive or aggressive.

Before he was put into a Garda van, Sgt Phillips said to him: "You may hit your girlfriend but you won't hit me."  He claimed she said: "That's what you get for beating your girlfriend, you dirty scumbag."

Ms Kowalczyk told the court she repeatedly told gardaí she did not know her attacker but they told her she should "admit my fiancé did it and it was not right to try to protect him".  Gardaí denied this.

Sgt Phillips believed Mr Jennings was still the main suspect in the attack up to 24 hours later, the court heard.

In a statement afterwards, Mr Jennings said the verdict "sent a strong message to the public that the high standard of conduct expected from our gardaí was not met in this case".

Irish Independent

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