07 Aug 2022

Shocking details of a horrific attack on Laois garda in Portlaoise outlined in court


Portlaoise Garda Station

A Laois-stationed Garda sergeant was out of work for over three years after having three teeth knocked out in an assault in Portlaoise.

Judge Keenan Johnson told a sentencing hearing at Portlaoise Circuit Court, sitting in Tullamore, that the consequences for Sergeant Aodhan O Flaithearta were “catastrophic”.

Keith McDonagh, Highfield Meadows, Portlaoise, was aged 18 when he struck Sergeant O Flaithearta at Colliers Lane in the town on December 7, 2016.

He was found guilty by a jury of assaulting a peace officer and making threats after a five-day trial last December.

Sergeant O'Flaithearta was the driver of a garda car which was on mobile patrol when he and his colleague Garda O'Sullivan came upon Keith McDonagh and his father Charlie McDonagh.

Sergeant Elaine Horan, Portlaoise Garda Station, led in her evidence by William Fennelly, BL, for the DPP, said the incident began when the gardai observed a vehicle failing to indicate at about 11.30pm and when Garda O'Sullivan spoke to the driver, Charlie McDonagh, he became very agitated and matters were tense.

That moment passed and both parties returned to their vehicles but the car with the McDonaghs in it later pulled up behind the garda car at a roundabout at Hawthorn Drive and two males were shouting at the gardai.

Things got very heated when the gardaí told the McDonaghs to leave the area and Keith McDonagh ran towards the garda vehicle and told Sergeant O Flaithearta he would find out where he lived, burn down his house and rape his wife.

There was pushing and shoving and Keith McDonagh was pepper-sprayed and ran away and then returned.

He punched the sergeant twice in the face and had a knuckleduster, something the accused denied.

The extent of the injuries were outlined in a report from Dr Joseph Mahon who said two teeth were lost, one was dislodged and had to be extracted, others were cracked and in addition to dental replacements, bone and gum grafting was required.

In a victim impact statement, Sergeant O Flaithearta said he required three operations under general anaesthetic, was out of work for three years and three months, and blamed himself for going to work that night.

He became depressed and anxious, would not leave his house and considered resigning from the force, though he had only recently been promoted to the rank of sergeant.

He attended a therapist and a psychiatrist and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and because of his anxiety, he installed CCTV, an alarm and an electric gate on his house.

He missed out on promotions that his peers could avail of and there was a serious impact on his family life.

The court also heard Mr McDonagh, now 22, had been married at a young age and was a father of one child but the marriage had broken up.

He had previous convictions for public order offences, violent disorder, handling stolen property, having counterfeit currency and dangerous driving and was currently serving a 10-month sentence for an offence unrelated to the one before the court.

Damien Colgan, SC, for Mr McDonagh, handed in a letter of apology.

Mr Fennelly said the apology, along with an offer of compensation, was declined by the victim.

Mr Colgan said the accused acted as he did in self defence and in defence of his father but he accepted the verdict of the jury.

He had lost three friends to suicide in his mid-teens and had been under the car of the youth adult mental health service himself because he was suffering from depression.

He said he was very sorry for the assault and he would not do it again.

Judge Johnson said it was a very serious case which had catastrophic consequences for the victim and will carry a significant custodial sentence.

He said Sergeant O Flaithearta was still suffering from the assault, which had very serious physical and psychological effects on him.

Extending his best wishes to the garda sergeant, he said he hoped his recovery continues and he hoped he could get his career back on track.

He said when the man left his wife and children and went out to work he didn't expect to return in such a broken state.

He adjourned sentencing to July 10 for a probation report.

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