A policeman who shot a suspected car thief as he ran away from a stolen vehicle in Gilford has been disciplined for using excessive force.
The shooting took place on 18 July 2009. The officer claimed the suspect turned around to face him and appeared to have a gun, but a watchdog rejected this.
The Police Ombudman said the evidence suggested the man was climbing a fence when he was shot, with his back to the officer and his feet of the ground.
Based on the findings of the Police Ombudsman’s investigation, the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) decided that the officer should be prosecuted for causing grievous bodily harm with intent.
However, the Police Ombudsman’s Office said the charges were withdrawn by the prosecution “as a result of the conduct of the injured party” during a court hearing in February 2013.
The incident that led to the shooting began when a resident in Craigavon called police to report that his car had been stolen by a man who called to his house and threatened him with a petrol bomb.
A police chase began when two officers saw the stolen vehicle in Gilford.
During the pursuit, the stolen car hit a kerb and the driver ran off towards nearby houses.
The Police Ombudsman’s Office said both police officers “drew their firearms as they gave chase”. One of the officers caught sight of the fugitive and ordered him to stop.
The policeman said he fired at the suspect because he believed he was pointing what looked like a gun at him.
The single shot was fired from a range of about 30ft (9m). It entered the left side of the man’s lower back and exited his abdomen.
Police Ombudsman’s investigation found that the “trajectory of the bullet - indicated by a hole in the fence and a strike mark on a wall - suggested his feet had been off the ground at the time”.
Two other officers who had seen the man as he ran off were interviewed by Police Ombudsman investigators, but neither recalled that the man had anything in his hands.
The man himself said he had a black handled screwdriver and a chisel in the back pocket of his jeans, but his hands had been on top of the fence when he was shot.
No weapon was found, despite an extensive search of the scene.
Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire concluded that there was no evidence, other than the statement of the officer who fired the shot, that the man had anything in his hand which could be mistaken for a firearm.
He noted, however, that the officer may have perceived the incident to have been linked to paramilitaries given the circumstances in which the car was stolen and the fact that officers had been briefed about high threat levels from dissident activity in the area.
After the charges of grievous bodily harm with intent against the policeman were dropped in 2013, the Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, recommended that he be formally disciplined by the PSNI.
A PSNI misconduct hearing resulted in the officer being found guilty of two breaches regarding the use of force.
The officer appealed and the PSNI Chief Constable reduced the level of the disciplinary sanctions imposed on him.