A police officer who discharged CS Spray into a group of fighting youths has been disciplined following investigation by the Police Ombudsman’s Office.
The officer, who deployed the spray in a fast food outlet in Newry, was found to have been too quick to resort to the use of CS Spray, had not followed guidance on its use in an enclosed space or as a method of crowd dispersal, and had failed to apply a graduated use of force. She was subsequently disciplined for her actions.
The investigation was initiated when one of the youths in contact with the spray was found to be a juvenile, triggering an automatic referral from the PSNI. A public complaint was also received about the use of CS Spray during the incident which occurred in August of last year.
The investigator’s review of CCTV footage of the incident, which took place in the early hours of the morning, showed two officers enter the premises and one of the officers deploy CS Spray into the group. The juvenile, and a number of other young males, were then taken out of the shop where they received after-care for its effects.
The footage raised concerns about the police officer’s assessment of the situation and her use of force and the juvenile was then contacted. In a statement made in the presence of his father, he complained that no warning was given prior to the officer discharging the spray.
The footage showed that the police officer had entered the premises with her CS Spray ready for use although she told investigators she believed that she had drawn the canister as she went through the door. She added that there had been at least a metre between her and the juvenile when she discharged the CS Spray.
Police Ombudsman staff accepted that although she may have shouted that CS Spray was going to be used, there was a very short period between her entering the shop and the deployment of the spray.
They also acknowledged that she had directed a long continuous burst of the spray towards the heads of the males involved in the fight however, a large number of people who were not involved were also clearly affected.
As required, given the potential for the officer’s actions to amount to the criminal offence of common assault, a file was sent to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS). Having considered the evidence, the PPS directed that the officer should not be prosecuted as the evidential test had not been met.
A breach of PSNI policy on conflict management was also considered by the Ombudsman’s office. Disciplinary measures recommended to the PSNI have since been administered.