A man has been convicted of assaulting an off-duty garda who was enjoying a Christmas night out in Kilkenny.
However, the case against a co-defendant was stopped and sent forward to a higher court when the sitting judge said charges against him were too serious for the district court.
James Reith, Fookswood, Johnstown, was charged with assault causing harm, assault and violent disorder. He denies all charges and the case against him has been adjourned.
Graham Rowe, 30 St Francis Terrace, Kilkenny, was convicted of assault and violent disorder.
Brian Murphy gave evidence in court he came to Kilkenny on December 7, 2019, with 15 to 20 garda colleagues from stations in the Youghal and Cobh areas, for a Christmas night out.
They watched a soccer match, had dinner and visited a number of pubs.
At about 2.30am on December 8 Mr Murphy left a pub on John Street. He was a short distance behind two garda colleagues. He walked over Johns Bridge and up RoseInn Street, with the intention of getting food and going to his accommodation.
Mr Murphy said he saw one or two people down a ‘side street’ who called him over. He was then surrounded by five or six people.
‘Do you want to fight’
The group were hostile towards him, Mr Murphy said, one asked ‘do you want to fight?’ He said ‘no’ but the other man said ‘you’re going to get one.’
“I was in fear for my safety, I could sense something was going to happen,” Mr Murphy said. He produced his garda ID and told the men he didn’t want any trouble.
Mr Murphy said he couldn’t say how many but that he received a ‘decent amount of punches’ around his head.
While this was going on he felt an arm around his shoulder, it was one of his colleagues, Sean Killigrew who said they were getting out of there.
Once a pathway was cleared for him he took it, Mr Murphy said, and got away as quickly as he could.
As he was walking up RoseInn Street he heard commotion behind him. He looked back and a group was ‘squaring up’ to his two colleagues, Mr Killigrew and Darren Feehan. The group were getting in their faces and he saw Mr Feehan punched at least once in the face.
Mr Murphy said he went back to ‘pull them out’ and while he was doing that a man came from his side, he didn’t see him coming, and he punched Mr Murphy in the eye.
Because he didn’t know the man was there before he was struck, Mr Murphy said he didn’t take any action to brace himself or evade the punch. His eye was open and the other man’s knuckle pierced his retina, tearing it.
The three off-duty gardaí backed off.
Local Gardaí arrived
A short time later a garda vehicle approached and Mr Murphy flagged it down. He described to Sgt Jason Crotty what had happened and described who was involved.
Mr Murphy gave his contact details to the gardaí and returned to his accommodation. However, during the night his condition deteriorated and he went to hospital the following day.
Mr Murphy told the court he was first put on steroids to try to heal his eye. There was pressure in his eye which was not relieved when the medication was discontinued. He was referred to a specialist who has since diagnosed Mr Murphy with angle recession glaucoma, caused by trauma to an eye duct. If not treated it can lead to blindness.
Mr Murphy said he has to put drops in his eyes every day and will have to do this for life. He has been advised surgery only has a 30% chance of success. He has also been advised at some stage he will start seeing flashing in his eye and when this happens he will have 72 hours to have surgery or lose his sight.
Mr Murphy said he had been drinking but was far from intoxicated. Most of those in his group were in their 30s and 40s and their days of ‘going out and sinking shots’ were well behind them.
He said he has been a garda for 14 years.
Mr Murphy said he didn’t get a clear look at the man who struck him, it was only when he moved in front of him he saw him.
“Every night I have to look in the mirror and put in eye drops and recall that night, whether I like it or not.” He said earlier hope his eye would heal didn’t pan out and now it is only a question to what degree he will lose his sight.
Mr Murphy said a colleague had to drive him home the next day.
He said he had not viewed CCTV of the incident to identify the man who assaulted him.
Judge John Brennan intervened at this point and said Mr Murphy was a credible witness and it was quite clear he hasn’t made a recovery from the time when jurisdiction in the case was assessed. The judge said it was a life-altering injury, a serious matter not a minor matter that could be dealt with on a summary basis. He reviewed the up to date medical report and said he was satisfied the charge of assaulting Mr Murphy, against Mr Reith, shouldn’t be heard in the district court. He adjourned this case for preparation of a book of evidence.
The case against Mr Rowe, for assaulting Mr Feehan, continued.
Darren Feehan gave evidence that he and Sean Killigrew were on RoseInn Street deciding where to go for food when Mr Killigrew turned and ran in the opposite direction. Mr Feehan turned and saw a scuffle, people pushing and shoving, roaring and shouting.
He ran after Mr Killigrew with the intention of getting Mr Murphy out of there and getting back to their hotels.
'Beat his chest like Tarzan'
Mr Feehan didn’t know the people around Mr Murphy. They seemed to be aggressive, he said. There were ‘a lot of lads with clenched fists’.
Mr Feehan and Mr Killigrew were trying to calm the situation and said they were off duty gardaí and didn’t want any trouble. One of the men said ‘you’re not on duty now’ and sniggered, Mr Feehan said he knew they were in trouble. “I could see from their demeanour they were bulling for a fight.”
Mr Killigrew pulled him away. Mr Feehan said they didn’t get 50 yards. They were followed and surrounded.
He “saw a fella beat his chest like tarzan.” A man with a beard and white tshirt started swinging his arms and Mr Feehan said he could see a punch coming. He moved his head but the punch connected on his nose.
Then he saw Mr Murphy being punched. There was a ‘horrible smack sound’.
The crowd suddenly dispersed, Mr Feehans said. He tried to ring gardaí but the blood flowing from his nose went onto his phone and he couldn’t use the touchscreen.
Patrolling Kilkenny gardaí arrived on the scene.
Mr Feehan said he was punched once but his nose was not broken.
“In my job we generally try to talk people down, not get into fisticuffs,” Mr Feehan explained why he showed the men his garda ID.
Mr Feehan told solicitor Ed Hughes that he has been a garda for 18 and a half years. He said he didn’t get a good look at the crowd because his main objective was to get Mr Murphy away.
Sean Killigrew said he was on RoseInn Street when he looked back and saw Mr Murphy with his hands up. From his experience, Mr Killigrew said, the movements suggested Mr Murphy was involved in an altercation.
He grabbed Mr Murphy and said they were leaving.
He was walking backwards away from the group who were ‘very aggressive’. He tried to calm them down.
One of the men taunted Mr Feehan then punched him. Then Mr Murphy was punched.
Mr Killigrew said he didn’t want to turn his back on the group. He and his colleagues were stepping backwards, trying to deescalate the situation, but, he said, it didn’t work.
Mr Killigrew said he is a member of a public order unit and is trained for such situations.
Robert Booth gave evidence that he was at the top of RoseInn Street when he noticed a heated exchange on the opposite side of the road. He saw a punch being thrown at one man and the person who assaulted that man pulled off his shirt. He reminded Mr Booth of Conor McGregor ‘dancing around on the street’ like an MMA fight. Then the man ‘went for’ a second man, who was standing there with his hands in his pockets.
A lady dragged the aggressor away and he put his shirt back on.
“I stood looking in disbelief,” Mr Booth said. None of the three off duty gardaí raised a hand, he said.
Sgt Doyle attended the scene. He said a man pointed out another male to him who, he said, had assaulted him. The male gave his name to the garda as Gareth Rowe and said he acted in self defence. He later said he did not want to make a complaint.
Sergeant Jason Crotty said he arrived at the scene just after 2.30am. There was a large crowd in the area, one man had no shirt, and it ‘looked like something had happened’.
Sgt Crotty said the garda vehicle was flagged down by Mr Murphy who said he was assaulted. He was then approached by Mr Feehan who was upset. He could see he was bloody and had been assaulted.
When the Kilkenny gardaí arrived people on the street started to slip away.
Sgt Crotty later took statements from the men. He directed CCTV from the area to be collected. The incident and two assaults could clearly be seen on the footage, he said.
Solicitor Ed Hughes said no evidence had been given that identified his client, Mr Rowe. Investigating gardaí identified him from the CCTV and Mr Hughes said that was not sufficient. The descriptions given by the men who were assaulted did not match, he said.
Inspector Smith said there was no issue with the identification.
Judge Brennan observed that CCTV had revolutionised prosecutions of this nature.
Giving evidence Mr Rowe said he didn’t remember this incident at all. He remembered a different incident on Upper John Street. He said he did not see the incident with the gardaí.
He said watching the CCTV in court didn’t bring back any memories. When put to him that the CCTV showed him striking a man Mr Rowe said it wasn’t him.
Mr Hughes said there had to be a doubt that Mr Rowe assaulted Mr Feehan or that he was even there.
Inspector Smith said the CCTV clearly showed Mr Rowe striking Mr Feehan. “God knows what would have happened if the gardaí didn’t arrive,” he said.
Judge Brennan said the evidence of witnesses for the State was impressive. He said he was satisfied from his viewing of the CCTV that he could identify Mr Rowe and the punch given to Mr Feehan. The state had proved their case beyond a reasonable doubt.
There were no previous convictions against Mr Rowe. Mr Hughes said his client works as a full time painter. He wasn’t the ‘primary offender’ the solicitor said, asking the court to be as lenient as possible.
Unacceptable Level of Thuggery
Judge Brennan said the witnesses gave evidence fairly and the practice of de-escalate and deconflict was very much in evidence on the night.
He said there was a level of thuggery involved that was not acceptable and convicted Mr Rowe of assault and of violent disorder.
Judge Brennan said Mr Rowe appeared to be a hard working young man. He would like to think it was a once off incident. The injury to Mr Feehan was relatively minor.
In those circumstances Judge Brennan applied the Probation Act Section 1.1 on each charge.
Subscribe or register today to discover more from DonegalLive.ie
Buy the e-paper of the Donegal Democrat, Donegal People's Press, Donegal Post and Inish Times here for instant access to Donegal's premier news titles.
Keep up with the latest news from Donegal with our daily newsletter featuring the most important stories of the day delivered to your inbox every evening at 5pm.