Sussex officers convicted of assaulting teenage girl
Two Sussex Police officers have been convicted of assaulting a 14-year-old girl while she was detained in handcuffs inside a police vehicle after her arrest in May 2020.
Following a two-day trial at Folkestone Magistrates’ Court, on Monday (December 20) a district judge found Police Constable Deborah Sands, aged 46, guilty of assault for use of PAVA spray, and Police Constable Kris Green, 35, guilty of assault for a knee strike to the head. Sentencing was adjourned until January 26.
Both officers had denied the charges. It follows an Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) investigation of the officers’ use of force against the girl, who was detained during an incident in East Sussex on Tuesday, May 19.
The court was told that the officers used excessive force against the girl, who had been reported as a missing person at the time. When she was handcuffed inside a police vehicle and had a seatbelt secured, PC Sands sprayed her in the face with PAVA and PC Green issued a knee strike to her head, kicks to a leg and applied a spit guard.
Body-worn video (BWV) footage presented to the court in evidence showed the force the officers used and that they engaged in verbal altercations with the girl during her arrest.
Delivering his verdicts, District Judge Justin Barron said that, in the context of 35 years’ court experience, he had been “genuinely shocked” when he first saw the BWV, adding: “I am sure that the degree of force was wholly disproportionate to the circumstances they [the officers] found themselves in.”
IOPC Regional Director Graham Beesley said: “While there are occasions when the use of force is required, police officers are entrusted with the power to do so only if it is necessary, reasonable and proportionate in the circumstances.
“Our investigation raised serious concerns about the actions of both officers and the Crown Prosecution Service made the decision to bring charges after we referred a file to them.
“The court has clearly taken the view that both officers, whose role involves ensuring the welfare of detainees, went beyond what was necessary to ensure control of the girl in a custody environment.”
The IOPC said its five-month investigation followed a referral from Sussex Police in July 2020, and on its conclusion, it found that both officers had a case to answer for gross misconduct for their use of force and other alleged breaches of the policing standards of professional behaviour.
Both officers are accused of being discourteous and not truthfully recording the force they used. One of the officers allegedly showed the BWV footage to colleagues for non-policing purposes and made inappropriate comments about it.
“Now the criminal case has concluded it will be for the force to progress disciplinary proceedings,” said the IOPC.
“During our investigation we analysed the BWV and reviewed custody CCTV footage and local and national guidance on use of force.
“We took witness statements from all the officers present and interviewed the officers who deployed the force under criminal caution. We also reviewed the account the girl gave to the police following her arrest.”
Detective Superintendent Rachel Carr, head of Sussex Police Professional Standards Department, said: “While police need to use force at times during the course of their work, this is highly regulated, and excessive use of force is unacceptable and any incidents will be fully investigated.
“As soon as we became aware of this case we made a referral to the IOPC and the officers were placed on restricted duties while they were under investigation.
“We then suspended them after an IOPC investigation led to them being charged with the offence. We will be resuming disciplinary action against the officers now that the criminal investigation has concluded.”