A NEWTOWNARDS-based policeman who slapped the face of a "suicidal" 16-year-old boy who was in handcuffs after being brought to hospital for a mental health assessment, has been convicted of assault and fined £400.
Gary McCoy, whose age was not given on court papers and whose address was listed as 'Newtownards PSNI,' had contested the assault charge on the grounds that he had acted in self-defence after fearing he was going to be assaulted.
At Newtownards Magistrates Court, District Judge Mark Hamill found him guilty and said the officer's actions had been "unprofessional, unjustified and uncalled for".
The defence had not denied the child had been struck but that the police officer had reacted in "self-defence" believing he was going to be assaulted, possibly headbutted.
The defendant, it was said, had used an "open hand" to "slap" the boy in the face.
The case proceeded in the absence of the child who had not attended court.
An employee of a children's home told the court the teenager was missing from the home and was found in the Newtownards area following a search which involved police.
Officer McCoy and a colleague took the boy to the Ulster Hospital for his mental health to be assessed and the child had been in handcuffs.
The residential child care worker had also attended the hospital and whilst waiting in the Emergency Department alongside the two police officers and the boy she said the 16-year-old was "agitated and distressed, upset and tearful".
She said the boy was also speaking loudly.
She said Officer McCoy repeatedly asked him to be quiet and then "came over to confront" the teenager.
The care worker said the officer "placed hands on him, lifted him out of his seat, and he slapped him on his face."
She told the court: "I was shocked, I felt it was uncalled for."
The court was told the defendant denied lifting the boy out of his seat and instead claimed he had gone to lift a mobile phone when the child stood up and his face "contorted" and he made a "guttural noise".
The court heard there were a number of members of the public present.
The defendant told the court the teenager had been disruptive at the hospital including asking a woman 'what the f**k are you looking at?' and had "offered someone a fight".
He told the court the defendant was using "colourful language"; the boy's behaviour was "intimidating" to those present and members of the public were "uncomfortable".
The officer said he told the boy to "moderate" his language as he was "loud, disruptive" to people who were there for treatment.
He said the boy was "agitated" and was "stating loudly" that he couldn't get Wifi; had no tobacco and he alleged the teen had said: 'I'm f*cking off as soon as yous go."
The officer said the boy had thrown a phone down and when he had gone to pick it up the boy stood up.
McCoy told the court: "We were looking straight at each other. His eyes were bulged; he tucked his chin in and he made a guttural sound".
He said he believed he was going to be assaulted and added: "I slapped him once".
A prosecution lawyer put it to the defendant that it must have been "very frustrating" to have been called a "fat, baldy, b*stard" by the boy.
The defendant said police officers are often subjected to abuse and know not to take it personally.
The prosecutor put it to the officer it must have been frustrating that the boy wouldn't keep quiet but McCoy said he was "more concerned about the effect on the public".
The prosecutor said the defendant had acted in a "heavy handed" and "over the top manner".
The defendant said the reason he struck the boy was because "it was my honest belief I was about to be assaulted by an aggressive young male".
The prosecutor said: "You felt it necessary to slap a child who is smaller than you, when he is in handcuffs, and your colleague is sitting right beside him".
A defence lawyer told the court it would have been "madness" for an officer, with 23 years of "unblemished" service, to carry out an "alleged unprovoked assault" in such a public area.
Convicting the defendant, Judge Hamill said "context is every thing in self-defence".
He added: "The context is two police officers had in their custody a 16-year-old suicidal male.
"He was agitated, aggressive, abusive, in a hospital selling with witnesses present including in particular a child care worker sitting beside the complainant."
The judge, 'Court News NI' can report, said there was a "fundamental difference" between the what the child care worker and the defendant told the court about whether the boy had stood up or been pulled up.
The judge said he had no doubt that the care worker was "telling the truth" and that the defendant had "grabbed" the boy's clothing and "raised him to his feet".
Judge Hamill said a suggestion that it was "easier" to slap the boy rather than put a hand on his chest or take a step back was "fanciful".
The judge added: "In my view this officer's behaviour was unprofessional, unjustified and uncalled for.
"He was not acting in self-defence, he was not entitled to slap this child...convicted of common assault".
In mitigation the defence lawyer said there were likely to be "implications" for the defendant regarding his career as a result of the conviction.
"There is that cloud hanging over him," the lawyer said.
Judge Hamill told McCoy to stand up and told him: "Your behaviour towards this child, who was in your care and your control was, I repeat, unprofessional, unjustified and was uncalled for".
Finding the defendant £400 along with a £15 offender levy, the judge told the defendant: "Take the consequences of your own actions. The facts in my view speak for themselves."