A Portlaoise woman’s civil claim for personal injuries against a garda who pepper-sprayed her when she obstructed him from arresting her son is an “abuse of process”, according to Judge Keenan Johnson, and should not be entertained as it could set a precedent inhibiting the gardaí from doing their job.
Before the recent Portlaoise Circuit Court was Kathleen Ward, 44, of Clonad, Portlaoise.
The accused was originally charged with violent disorder and obstruction of a peace officer, but following a jury trial she was acquitted of violent disorder and convicted of obstruction.
On May 11, 2017, the accused accompanied her two sons to court.
There was an altercation outside the courthouse involving the accused’s two sons and some other young men, to which the gardaí intervened in an effort to restore order and peace to the area.
Judge Keenan Johnson said the incident was a serious matter because it happened within the vicinity of the courthouse, in the presence of innocent members of the public who were undoubtedly frightened at the level of aggression and violence engaged in by the participants.
Garda Ryan apprehended the accused’s son and in the course of carrying out his duty he was obstructed by the accused.
Given the circumstances, Garda Ryan felt compelled to deploy his pepper spray in order to restore order and pepper sprayed the accused.
Following lengthy deliberations the jury acquitted the accused on the charge of violent disorder and convicted her of obstruction, which in normal circumstances would be dealt with summarily in the district court.
An aggravating factor considered by the judge in sentencing was the fact that the accused is pursuing a claim for personal injuries against Garda Ryan because of his use of pepper spray.
“The court finds it difficult to equate the accused’s regret for involvement in the incident and her acceptance of the jury’s verdict with her determination to pursue Garda Ryan for personal injuries as a consequence of his deployment of pepper spray on her while acting in the course of his duties.
“It is the court’s view that such a claim should not be entertained and if upheld would give rise to a highly undesirable precedent which would seriously inhibit gardaí in the maintenance of public order,” said Judge Johnson.
In mitigation, the judge said the accused had a heretofore unblemished record and is unlikely to be in trouble again. The court acknowledged that the accused acted out of concern for her sons and that there was no premeditation involved in her offending.
“It was a case of her allowing her emotions to rule her head,” said the judge, adding that Garda Ryan had been very fair to the accused by indicating that she was a good mother who had the best interests of her sons at heart.
Given that the accused had no previous convictions, Judge Johnson said it was appropriate that she should be given the benefit of the probation act and applied section 1.2 of the said act.
“The court wishes to again reiterate… that any claim for personal injury made by the accused should not be entertained, as it seems clear to the court that the accused was primarily the author of her own misfortune,” said Judge Johnson.
The judge said he was anxious that this judgement should be given to the court that is dealing with the civil claim.
“The court accepts that it does not have the power to prohibit the accused from pursuing a civil claim for personal injuries, but wishes to make it clear that if it had the ability to do so it would.
“In the court’s view the pursuit of such a claim is an abuse of process,” concluded Judge Johnson.