Gardaí were in genuine fear for their lives last Friday night in what a local Sergeant has described as the “most frightening experience” he has ever had as a guard.
Sgt David Bunn and Gda Brian Carroll had to put out an urgent call for assistance from the Armed Support Unit while conducting a planned search operation at a property in Lisnanagh, Edgeworthstown.
When Sgt Bunn and Gda Carroll were approaching the residence, they observed a man discarding a package into a ditch. The item was later seized and revealed to be a taser.
As gardaí were apprehending the man, a large number of family members arrived at the scene and advanced on them, assaulting Gda Carroll, who sustained facial injuries.
“If we didn’t call for assistance, I was very afraid of what would happen - nobody would have known we were there,” Sgt Bunn told Longford District Court on Tuesday. Three people have so far appeared in court in connection with the violent incident.
A man appeared before Judge Seamus Hughes at Mullingar District Court on Monday and was remanded in custody until Friday, May 1.
Two more members of the family, Pierre and Chantelle Stokes, appeared before Judge Hughes at Longford District Court today (Tuesday) and were also remanded in custody to Friday, May 1, and Tuesday, May 5, respectively.
On Friday, April 24, at 9pm, Gda Carroll and Sgt Bunn were assisting in a number of searches in the area, Sgt Bunn explained while giving evidence.
“En route, we spoke to Chantelle Stokes. There was a male with her who discarded an item in the ditch, which we later discovered was a taser. We attempted to arrest him,” he said.
When gardaí tried to apprehend the man, Sgt Bunn explained that a member of the Stokes family was recording the arrest on a phone, which was subsequently seized by Gda Carroll.
“They all came out of the house - the family and the extended family and demanded that we let the man we had arrested go and that we give the phone back. When they lined up along the road, there were approximately 15 of them - four males, a large number of females and children,” Sgt Bunn continued.
“We had to go back to the car to look for assistance. At that stage, I was in fear for what was going to happen. I’d asked Garda Carroll to give back the phone.
“They all kept advancing on us. We couldn’t use protective items. We were too afraid they’d be used on us. If we didn’t call for assistance, I was very afraid of what would happen - nobody would have known we were there.
“It was the most frightening experience I’ve ever had as a guard.”
Gda Carroll received a punch to the side of the face from a male and was struck again by another male, the court heard, and is unable to work as a result. There were also threats made to Gda Carroll during the incident.
“I was afraid of the violence I believed was going to be used. Luckily, the Armed Support Unit arrived and they dispersed,” said Sgt Bunn, explaining that the Armed Support arrived in two vehicles with between six and eight members.
Detective Sergeant Keelan Brennan told the court that the Armed Support Unit returned to the property on Monday, April 27 and were unable to gain immediate access.
“The gate was closed and chained and we had to use a consaw to gain access to the premises,” Det Sgt Brennan explained, adding that immediate access to the property for gardaí was a bail condition which had been put in place.
“We got in using a consaw, which took some time. It took approximately two minutes and there were no efforts made to assist gardaí.”
Mother of the two accused, Margaret Stokes, told the court that the gate was locked due to threats on her husband’s life, and challenged the gardaí to watch the video that was taken before the phone was seized as evidence.
“He could turn that on and it’ll show Pierre being cable tied. On that camera, they’d be seen assaulting my son, kicking him. And my daughter was shoved and she’s six months pregnant,” Ms Stokes said.
In mitigation, solicitor for the defence, Bríd Mimnagh, explained that both the accused were young people who did not have bad records.
“Pierre and Chantelle were voluntarily available. Neither of these young people was aggressive. They’d have gone voluntarily if they were allowed to do so. Chantelle has no previous convictions. Pierre, in the last five years since the incident with the dog, hasn’t come to the attention of gardaí,” she explained.
“The incident with the dog was in April 2015 when a search was taking place on a Friday evening. A number of gardaí went out to effect arrest. Two dogs were held up against them and they threatened to let the dogs attack and kill them. It was a very frightening experience,” Det Sgt Brennan explained for the benefit of the court.
Having heard the evidence, Judge Hughes decided to refuse bail to both the accused.
“Immediate access to the premises is never put in a bail condition, but it was for them. This is a very finely balanced application for bail. They have no previous. Their brother was searched and found to be in possession of a taser. Gardaí sought to arrest him and that arrest was interfered with by 15 members of the family.
“A garda with 16 years of experience was visibly upset. They felt their lives were under threat. In fact, a garda was assaulted,” he said.
“Yesterday, I heard a bail application in Mullingar and I refused bail. And I’m going to be consistent and refuse bail. There’s a norm that has crept in here where there is a requirement for the Armed Support Unit for these families.”
Pierre Stokes has been remanded in custody to Friday, May 1, while Chantelle Stokes will reappear at next Tuesday’s sitting of Longford District Court on May 5.