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Use of Tasers and AEPS justified against man with machetes: Police Ombudsman

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A Police Ombudsman investigation has concluded that police were justified in using AEP baton rounds and Tasers against a man armed with machete-type swords during an incident in Antrim last year.

Police and civilian witnesses reported that the man had used the swords to hit himself on the head and cut his throat in the Stiles Way area of the town in the early hours of 17 January 2015.

The man later thanked police for stopping him causing himself further injury.

Four local response police officers were first to arrive at the scene after a member of the public reported that the man was standing in the middle of the road with the swords at his feet, and had acted menacingly when approached.

The officers said the man was intoxicated and seemed disturbed. When he refused to hand over the weapons, a police armed response unit (ARU) was summoned.

As the response officers waited for the armed unit they continued to try to reason with and calm the man, who they said was crying and stating that he wanted to die.

Civilian witnesses, identified through a media appeal, praised the officers for the sympathetic way in which they dealt with the man. They said he was spoken to in a calm and friendly way, and that officers had referred to him by his first name, asked him about his family and offered him a cigarette.

The civilian witnesses also stated that the man’s behaviour deteriorated when the ARU officers arrived, and some queried whether the situation could have been resolved without the use of force.

However, the commander of the armed unit said it had been a volatile situation and he was concerned for the safety of the response officers, given their proximity to a man acting erratically with dangerous weapons.

He said they approached without flashing lights or sirens so as not to alarm him, had tried to reason with him, but had no option but to intervene when he moved threateningly towards an officer.

Police and civilian witnesses, and members of an ambulance crew, each reported that the first AEP was fired as the man approached one of the ARU officers with the swords in his hands, having ignored orders to drop the weapons.

A second officer fired another baton round when the first failed to stop the man.  Both officers said that there was open grassy space behind him, and reported that the rounds were fired from a range of around 15 metres.

Officers reported that the use of AEPs distracted the man and allowed them to get close enough to use Tasers. As he turned to run away, still clutching the swords, two officers each discharged two Taser rounds – four in total – in quick succession.

These also failed to subdue him, but after a short chase he stopped running and was eventually persuaded by police to hand over the weapons.

He was then arrested and taken to Antrim Area Hospital for treatment, having suffered cuts to his neck, and injuries to his lower abdomen and knee thought to have been caused by the baton rounds.

The man later told Police Ombudsman investigators that he had been depressed and admitted asking police to shoot him. He thanked police for the way they dealt with the incident.

The officers who discharged the weapons were found to have been properly trained and authorised.

The Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, concluded that the use of AEPS and Tasers had been justified and proportionate to the threat posed, and had represented the minimal reasonable use of force by police.

He also recommended that to ensure absolute clarity for officers, the PSNI should review its guidance regarding the situations in which AEPs should be used.

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