A foreign national has been granted an appeal against a prison sentence for his part in an incident in which a plainclothes garda was assaulted, after Portlaoise Circuit Court ruled that the man did not know the injured party was a garda.
Attila Szabo (38), 20 Ard Erin, Mountrath, was convicted in the district court of threatening behaviour and being intoxicated in public, at the Top Square, Portlaoise, on January 17, 2016.
He was sentenced to one month in jail for this offence, after refusing to pay compensation and complete community service.
At the recent appeal, Garda John Masterson gave evidence that he was attending to an unrelated assault in the Top Square on the night, in plain clothes but in a marked patrol car. Across the street, he observed a car with its reverse lights on and two males lying on the bonnet. He said the car was trying to get out, but was unable to due to the two males.
Garda Masterson said he went across the road to assist, but a male grabbed him by the arm and threatened him.
A group of males, including the appellant, stood around the garda and one of the men lunged at Garda Masterson with his head, forcing the garda to deploy his pepper-spray. Garda Masterson said he received a number of punches to the head, not from the appellant, before another male got out of a car and punched him once to the head and then attempted to punch him again.
Another member of the group punched the garda twice. Garda Masterson said that the appellant, Attila Szabo was shouting and pulling at him, so the garda used his pepper-spray on him, but he continued to be aggressive and Garda Masterson called for assistance.
A number of people were arrested in the incident, all of whom have been dealt with by the courts.
Garda Masterson said that the appellant was verbally and physically aggressive throughout the incident.
Defence for the appellant put it to the garda that he had been a man in plain clothes who went into the middle of a group, to which Garda Masterson replied: “But I don’t think anyone deserves to be treated like that.”
He said that the appellant was dragging and pulling at him, to which defence suggested that the appellant was trying to be a peacemaker.
“I don’t accept that, he was shouting,” said Garda Masterson. “I would not pepper-spray someone who was trying to break up an argument.”
He said that the appellant was standing over him shouting while he was cuffing another man.
Garda Ray Dermody, who assisted in the incident, said that the appellant had a hold of Garda Masterson by the top of his clothing and was shouting and acting aggressively, so he struck the appellant with his baton. He said that the appellant continued to be aggressive, so Garda Masterson pepper-sprayed him.
The appellant took the witness box to say that he had been out with friends in a local nightclub and his wife and brother-in-law came to collect him. He said it had been his brother-in-law who had been on the bonnet of the car.
The appellant said that on the night he saw a person pushing his friend so he went over and asked what he wanted, and he was then pepper-sprayed in the eyes. He said the person then jumped on his brother-in-law and started fighting.
“I started shouting ‘stop it, why are you doing this?’ It shocked me,’ he said, adding that after he was sprayed he couldn’t see anything for two hours.
He said he didn’t know at the time who the man was who came over to them.
“I tried to calm him down, I’m not a fighter. I tried to calm down Garda Masterson. I still didn’t know he was a garda, he had no uniform.”
Judge Johnson said that Garda Masterson had been subjected to a savage assault on the night, but the appellant was by far the least culpable involved and may have had too much to drink.
Judge Johnson said he accepted the appellant had not realised that Garda Masterson had been a garda and allowed the appeal.