A woman described by a garda as the most difficult prisoner she had dealt with in her career has been fined and disqualified from driving following a conviction for failing to give a breath, blood or urine specimen after her arrest.
Melissa O’Neill, 40 Abbeylands, Ferrybank, Waterford, had contested the charge, and charges of failing to produce driving documents, at Kilkenny District Court.
Following a hearing, Judge Geraldine Carthy convicted Ms O’Neill and imposed a fine of €1,750 with a four-year driving disqualification.
The charges arose from an incident in the early morning hours of August 16 last.
Garda Niamh Doran was on duty in Kilkenny Garda Station when she answered a phone call at 5.20am. The caller identified herself as ‘Melissa O’Neill, county councillor,’ and told Garda Doran she needed assistance because she was sitting in a ditch, somewhere in Kilkenny. Ms O’Neill couldn’t identify her location and from her description of the area neither could the garda. Garda Doran said Ms O’Neill got very irate when she was asked if she was in north or south Kilkenny. She said she had been at a party in Courtown, which the garda took to mean the town in Co Wexford. Ms O’Neill then called the garda a name and said she was in Kilkenny.
Garda Doran gave Ms O’Neill her mobile number and asked her to drop a pin on a map and send it to her. While waiting, Garda Doran contacted the garda control room in Waterford and was advised to call Ms O’Neill and tell her to ring 999 as that service could locate her. The garda couldn’t get Ms O’Neill on the phone, she never rang back and never sent a pin.
At approximately 5.45am a phone call was received from a member of the public who came across a car in a ditch at Ballyhendricken, Ballycallan. Garda Doran dispatched a patrol car.
Garda Lisa Lawlor contacted the station at approximately 6.30am to say she had arrested a person on suspicion of drink driving.
On arrival at Kilkenny Garda Station Garda Doran, who is a qualified evidenzer operator, asked Ms O’Neill if she had any medical condition that would affect her giving a breath sample and was told: “It’s my GDPR. My medical records are not your business.”
Ms O’Neill clearly said to the garda she would not give a breath sample. A doctor was called so she could give a blood sample.
Garda Doran said Ms O’Neill appeared to be intoxicated and was abusive to gardaí. “She did her best to disrupt any procedures we tried to inform her of.” Ms O’Neill “tried to cause chaos.”
Garda Doran said when Ms O’Neill phoned the station she called her a b*tch and stupid, said she knew where she was, said she had been drinking but was not drunk, “and told me to ‘rock on’ basically.”
The garda said the prisoner “did her best to frustrate us” and wouldn’t listen to guidance.
In the station, after being told she could not have her mobile phone, she lunged for it. Another garda tried to stop her and Ms O’Neill received a ‘nick’ on her wrist when their hands came together.
“I pleaded with her to calm down,” Garda Doran said.
The garda said Ms O’Neill said she had a medical issue preventing her giving a sample, but not what. She said she was a cancer survivor which the garda told her did not preclude giving a sample.
Pauline Davis gave evidence she was driving to work on Sunday, August 8, when she saw a car in the ditch with a woman trying to get the driver’s door open. The ditch was deep and the car was badly tilted.
Ms Davis helped the woman get out and smelled alcohol. She asked Ms O’Neill to stay in the car, for safety, but she insisted on getting out. She told Ms Davis she was coming from a party, didn’t feel safe there and left.
Ms Davis rang the gardaí, sat Ms O’Neill into her own car and gave her a cigarette. Ms O’Neill insisted on taking her handbag, papers and a suitcase out of her car.
While waiting for gardaí Ms Davis said Ms O’Neill spoke about a referendum on masks, her speech was slurred and sporadic.
Garda Lisa Lawlor went to the scene. Ms O’Neill told her she had left a window in the car open and moisture got in. When she was driving she was wearing new shoes from Penney’s and her foot slipped on the pedal, and she went into the ditch.
Garda Lawor could smell alcohol and Ms O’Neill’s speech was slurred. She didn’t think Ms O’Neill understood the extent of what had happened.
The garda observed the car was almost completely on its side in the ditch and there was damage to the front. The garda’s opinion was that the car collided with a tree .
Ms O’Neill was arrested and “immediately started to argue the arrest.” She was cautioned and continued to argue.
Garda Lawlor asked Ms O’Neill to accompany her to the garda car and she refused. She held up her phone, the garda thought to film and to delay the arrest. The garda took the phone from her. She eventually went into the garda car.
On the way to the station Ms O’Neill kept asking for her phone. She was told she was entitled to make a call at the garda station, but ignored the garda and kept asking.
Garda Lawlor said Ms O’Neill’s behaviour “could only be described as extremely obnoxious.”
Ms O’Neill told the gardaí she was part of a policing committee, she would go to the media and the two gardaí would lose their jobs.
When the doctor arrived, Garda Lawlor brought Ms O’Neill to the doctor’s room, requested her to provide a sample of blood or urine and explained the penalties if she refused to comply.
Ms O’Neill ignored the garda at first, then said she understood. When asked again to provide a sample the prisoner said she was a three-time cancer survivor and they were not coming near her. She asked the doctor if he could take blood from her feet and he said he could.
Then Ms O’Neill became insulting to the doctor. She said his eyes were bloodshot and he looked like he had been drinking and should be tested.
She was asked to provide a sample and again refused.
Garda Lawlor said that at all stages Ms O’Neill was very difficult to deal with. “Despite her behaviour I gave her a chance, she said ‘I’m refusing.’”
Garda Lawlor said she was satisfied that Ms O’Neill understood what was said, she just was an uncooperative person to deal with. “In 13 years in the job she is the most difficult I have come across.”
Garda Amy Mulqueen was member-in-charge at Kilkenny Garda Station on this day. She described Ms O’Neill as “extremely abusive to gardaí.” The prisoner refused a breath test and told a garda to “move on love.” She refused to answer the garda’s risk assessment questions. She was visibly intoxicated and her behaviour erratic.
Garda Mulqueen tried to read Ms O’Neill her rights but she put her fingers in her ears and said ‘la la la.’
The garda had to refuse Ms O’Neill water and explain she was ‘nil-by-mouth’ before the breath test, numerous times.
When Ms O’Neill grabbed for her phone Garda Mulqueen got it back, scratching her. It had been explained she was not entitled to it while in custody numerous times. Ms O’Neill said she would need a tetanus shot because “I don’t know where those nails have been.”
When asked to sit down she said she was entitled to stand under the European Convention of Human Rights. Ms O’Neill said she wanted to contact someone but would not give gardaí a number, and said Garda Mulqueen’s shoulder number was ‘666.’ She told another garda she wanted to make sure Garda Mulqueen never dealt with the public again. She said she was a ‘Limerick Lady’ but Garda Mulqueen was a ‘Limerick yoke.’
Garda Dan Keane came on duty as member-in-charge after Garda Mulqueen. Ms O’Neill refused to sign to acknowledge her statement of rights. He was of the opinion she may be a threat to herself or others so placed her in a cell.
At 8.20am Ms O’Neill requested to make a call and asked to get the number from her phone. She would not give the garda the number and attempted to make the call from her mobile. It had to be taken off her. At 8.47am she provided gardaí with a number and a friend agreed to come and collect her.
At 9.56am Ms O’Neill was charged. She refused to sign to acknowledge receipt of the charge sheet. She was bailed and left the station.
Garda Keane was outside the doctor’s room and said he heard her asking where he was from. At times she was belligerent and shouting and it was hard to understand everything she was saying.
Taking the witness stand, Ms O’Neill said she “begged several times for medical assistance.” She said she explained to the doctor she was a bilateral double mastectomy survivor and could not have a needle in her arm. Taking blood from her foot is a special procedure, she said. Ms O’Neill said the doctor never spoke to her. She said she could not see the whites of his eyes, maybe because he had been working all night and was tired. She said she had a panic attack because of this, the effects of the crash and the “garda injuring me.”
Ms O’Neill said she never refused, she told gardaí she had no problem giving blood and needed a specialist. She said she thought she was being brought to hospital after the accident.
Ms O’Neill said that in the garda car she was not aware she was under arrest. She said she was not given her rights at the side of the road and “there was no resistance whatsoever.”
She said she rang gardaí for assistance. She was conscious her car was on the road and wanted to ring her insurance company and a recovery company. She said she was “out in the sticks” and couldn’t pronounce the name of the area. She asked the garda to track her phone.
Ms O’Neill said she never refused the breathaliser. She said she certainly did not get any treatment like the gardaí said, that sounded like it was straight out of regulations.
Ms O’Neill said she never lunged for her phone and said the garda “bust the vein” on her arm and she feared a clot.
The accident happened because she had left the roof down on her car and the smell was the wet carpet, Ms O’Neill said. There was no party. “All these procedures they say never happened.”
Inspector Barry Smith said the gardaí were the most sympathetic and professional he had ever worked with. He sympathised with Ms O’Neill on her health battles and said he respected her for persevering. But, he said, she was so intoxicated she didn’t remember. “It was the luck of god you were not seriously injured or killed.”
Ms O’Neill said “every single minute I remember clearly.” She said a garda said ‘I hope you bleed out’ and she had not told Ms Davis she was coming from a party. She said she believed the garda evidence was “not the truth.”
Ms O’Neill said she was in contact with GSOC. Inspector Smith said GSOC had closed the case.
Ms O’Neill said gardaí “ “just whipped me off the road” without conversation. She said she was in pain and was taking pictures of her car, not videoing the gardaí. She said the only time she raised her voice was when she was “dragged into a cell.”
Judge Geraldine Carthy convicted Ms O’Neill of failing to give a sample. Other charges were dismissed.
There were two previous convictions recorded against her, a drink driving conviction from 2012 and a conviction under the Misuse of Drugs Act from 2005. Solicitor Chris Hogan asked these be treated as ‘historic.’ His client is a community activist and not working, she is a fulltime carer for her son.
Judge Carthy imposed a fine of €1,750 and imposed a driving disqualification of four years.