Assault conviction for man who threatened to ‘slice’ Kilkenny garda

Suspended sentence imposed after contested case

Kilkenny People reporter

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Kilkenny District Court

Kilkenny Court House

A man who threatened to ‘slice’ a garda who responded to a 999 call has been given a suspended prison sentence at Kilkenny District Court.


Lee Thornton, 41 Edmund Rice Park Estate, Callan, had contested two charges against him in court - a charge of assault and a charge of obstructing a garda.


Garda John Moloney gave evidence in court that on Sunday, March 29, 2020, at 6.40pm, he attended at 41 Edmund Rice Park, following a 999 call. He spoke to Mr John Thornton who invited him in and told him his son, Lee, was upstairs and acting aggressively towards his girlfriend.


Garda Moloney said he could hear Lee Thorntown ‘roaring and breaking up the room’.
The garda went upstairs and drew his baton because he was concerned for the safety of Mr Thornton’s girlfriend, who was three months pregnant at the time. Garda Moloney explained he drew his baton because he did not want to use pepper spray in an enclosed space.


As he stood outside the bedroom door Garda Moloney heard Mr Thornton roaring ‘f*ck you’ and smashing up the room. Then he heard a ‘hysterical laugh’.


Garda Moloney shouted to Mr Thornton that he was outside, then went into the bedroom. Mr Thorntown told him to ‘f*ck off’ and stood between his girlfriend, who was visibly upset, and the garda.


Garda Moloney told Mr Thornton to sit down and calm down. Mr Thornton, Garda Moloney said, told the garda he was going to ‘slice me up’ and ‘came at me’, causing him to be concerned for his own safety.


Mr Thornton raised his hand as if to strike the garda and Garda Moloney said he had to subdue him. He held Mr Thornton down on the bed until garda assistance arrived.


The defendant was taken to Kilkenny Garda Station. His bedroom was searched and there was no evidence of a knife, there was evidence of drug use. The wardrobe was broken up and the room dishevelled.


Garda Moloney said he returned to the house, later that evening, to see if things were OK. Mr Thornton’s father, his father’s partner and his girlfriend declined to make a statement.
Defence solicitor for Lee Thornton, Ed Hughes, said they didn’t know if it was true that Mr John Thornton had invited him into the house, because he wasn’t in court to give that evidence.
Garda Moloney said it was true. He said he ‘didn’t just turn up for no reason’ and there had been a 999 call.


Mr Hughes said his client would say he was having an argument with his girlfriend and it was not domestic abuse. He would say he was given no warning before the garda ‘barged’ into the room. Mr Hughes said his client would say the garda nearly hit him with the door, called him ‘a little pr*ck’ and hit him with his baton on the back.


Garda Moloney did not accept that. He said he did not hit Mr Thornton with the door, and when the defendant came at him he hit his arm with the baton.
Mr Hughes asked if, in hindsight, if he had complied with the domestic abuse intervention policy he might not have needed his baton. Garda Moloney said from what he heard and what he saw of drug use, Mr Thornton’s roaring into his face he was going to slice him up, there was no calming him down.
The garda said he hit Mr Thornton once. He then pushed Mr Thornton onto the bed, using his hands to hold him there for approximately 10 minutes.
Garda Moloney said he believed he was going to be assaulted.


Sgt Ciarán Sheehan told the court he called to the house with Garda Moloney later that evening. The family did not want to give statements and he advised them about domestic violence orders.
Sgt Sheehan said a family member said Lee Thornton had ‘lost it’. The family had no complaints about Garda Moloney.


On April 6 the gardaí met Lee Thornton on Green Lane, Callan. They asked him to make a statement. He said he didn’t want to and he apologised to Garda Moloney.
Mr Hughes said Mr John Thornton didn’t want to come to court because he was ‘devastated’ at the way his son was treated. Sgt Sheehan said if anything it was the other way around, that Mr John Thornton was ‘at his wits end’ and was no longer living in the house.


Garda Joseph Reville was member in charge at Kilkenny Garda Station when Mr Lee Thornton was taken there on March 29. He observed him in custody and said the prisoner spoke to his girlfriend on the phone on two occasions. On another occasion Mr Thornton seemed confused about where he was and what time it was.
Garda Reville said Mr Thornton was held for six hours because he believed he was under the influence of an intoxicant and could be a danger to himself and others.


Mr Hughes made three applications to the court to have the charges dismissed - he argued there was no permission given to the garda to enter the premises, that no arrestable offence was taking place and the garda was a ‘trespasser’; he said the force used was not proportionate or reasonable; and he argued that Mr Thornton’s detention was unlawful.
In reply, Judge Geraldine Carthy said that when a person says to a garda ‘I’m going to slice you up’ she was satisfied it was a reason to use force, she also said the garda was invited into the house. She ruled against the three applications.


Giving evidence, Lee Thornton said he was in his bedroom, having an argument with his girlfriend, when Garda Moloney walked in. He said he ‘didn’t fully remember’ but the door opened and ‘nearly hit me’. Mr Thornton said he took two steps back and the garda ‘swung’ at him.
“He went to swing a second time and I raised my hand to try and stop him,” he said. He said he did not threaten the garda. “I might have told him to ‘f*ck off’ but there’s no way I said I’d slice him, there was no knife near me,” Mr Thornton said.


When he put his hand up to defend himself, Mr Thornton said, the garda caught his hand and put him on the bed and ‘he put a knee on me’. Mr Thornton said he told the garda he had asthma and called for his parents and they said ‘leave off a bit’.
Mr Thornton said his girlfriend at the time is still his partner.
He admitted the banging was him slamming the wardrobe.


Under cross-examination, Mr Thornton denied he had drink or drugs taken.
When it was put to the defendant that Garda Moloney went into the bedroom with the intention of assisting Mr Thornton’s girlfriend, Mr Thornton replied: “I understand there was a reason for him to come up to the room, from me slamming the door there was probably a bit of fear to my girlfriend. But I meant no harm to my girlfriend, my father or his partner.”


Mr Hughes said he honestly did not think there was any justification for a garda entering the building and going up to the bedroom with a baton. “If it was me and someone arrived in the bedroom of my house with a baton, garda or not, I would be in fear.”


The solicitor said ‘not a finger was laid on Garda Moloney’ by his client and that Mr Lee Thornton had received ‘a beating of sorts’ from the garda.
Judge Carthy pointed out that Mr Thornton was hit on the arm and there was no evidence he was hit on the back.


Inspector Barry Smith said the garda was responding to a call where there was fear for someone’s safety. His role is to preserve life and he had permission from Mr John Thornton to enter the house. The garda used reasonable force, the garda inspector said.
Judge Carthy took some time to consider the case, and convicted Mr Thornton on the assault charge. He was given a five month prison sentence, suspended for two years.
The second charge was taken into consideration.