Two former Gardai (police) have been jailed for assault and corrupting justice in the first convictions following a trial since the Garda Ombudsman Commission was established four years ago.
A female sergeant still serving in the force was also convicted of a lesser assault and given a short suspended sentence.
Garda Ombudsman spokesman Kieran Fitzgerald said the convictions should offer reassurance that any misbehavior by members of the force will be penalized.
The prosecutions were brought following an investigation by the ombudsman after a man who resisted arrest for urinating complained about his treatment while in custody.
The ombudsman launched the investigation after Superintendent Chris Delaney of Waterford Garda station viewed CCTV footage of the incident.
A fourth Garda, a serving sergeant, who was also investigated, was cleared of assault by a jury of seven women and five men.
Daniel Hickey, 29, who resigned from the force following his conviction in August after a four-week trial, was sentenced this week to three years, with half of it suspended, for assault causing harm to 38-year-old Anthony Holness on New Street in Waterford in January last year.
John Burke, 39, who also resigned following his conviction, was sentenced to two years with 12 months suspended for attempting to pervert the course of justice by diverting CCTV cameras away from the assault on Holness.
Sergeant Martha Mcenery, 42, was sentenced to four months, all of it suspended, after she was convicted of a lesser charge of assaulting Holness on the same occasion.
Judge Leonie Reynolds said she accepted that Gardai had a difficult job to do and were entitled to use reasonable force in the course of an arrest and that this entitlement was not just an academic concept but was enshrined in law.
While she accepted that it was not always easy to assess what was reasonable force, she believed that this was a case where it clearly was not used as there was “clear blue water” between reasonable force and what happened to Holness.
Reynolds said that the ferocity of what Holness had been subjected to was clearly evident on CCTV footage of the incident and this was notable from the “audible collective intake of breath by the jury when they first saw it on CCTV.”
She recalled how the CCTV footage showed Garda Hickey strike Holness a number of times on the head after he was pepper-sprayed and how, when he was lying on the ground, Hickey kicked him on the head.
The judge added, “It was blatant criminality, an act of thuggery.”
Mcenery slapped Holness on the back of the head in circumstances which were “wholly unjustifiable and disproportionate.”
Garda Burke, who was in the control room in Waterford Garda station and who diverted the CCTV camera away from the assault “added a sinister and disturbing dimension to the case.”