The Police Ombudsman has ruled that the use of a Taser on a man who was threatening to kill himself was “proportionate and necessary” in order to prevent him from causing further self-harm.
That is the finding of an investigation into an incident at a house in Newtownabbey in December 2011 when police received a 999 call reporting that the man (Man A) had a knife and rope and was threatening to kill himself.
A police Armed Response Vehicle, containing three officers, was tasked in response. Two officers entered by the front door of the house, while another went in via a rear door. A relative of Man A told them he was in a downstairs bedroom.
The relative led two officers to the bedroom and entered the room first, followed by two officers. As they did so, Man A put a knife to his throat and shouted: “I’m going to kill myself.”
One of the officers then pulled Man A’s relative out of the way and fired the Taser. Despite being struck by the barbs from the weapon, Man A held on to the knife.
After some negotiation, Man A threw the knife onto a bed. Officers were then able to restrain and handcuff him.
He was arrested for breach of an Anti-Social Behaviour Order and taken to Antrim Area Hospital for treatment to minor injuries.
All discharges of police firearms in Northern Ireland, including Tasers, are subject to independent investigation by the Ombudsman’s Office.
Investigators obtained accounts of what had happened from the officers who had been involved, as well as from Man A’s relative, who said he was satisfied with the actions taken by police. He also recalled that the officers had shouted warnings and had asked Man A to drop the knife before using the Taser.
The officer who discharged the weapon said Man A’s neck was already bleeding before he fired the Taser, the barbs from which struck the target on the chest.
He said he and his colleagues then provided first aid and removed the barbs before Man A was examined by paramedics and taken to hospital.
Examination of police records showed that the officer who fired the Taser had been properly trained and authorised to use the weapon.
Having assessed the evidence, the Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, concluded that the use of Taser during the incident had been “legal, proportionate and necessary in the circumstances, and in compliance with all relevant police guidelines.”