This article first appeared in Village magazine, February 2021 edition
The brother of a Tullamore man who died of a heart attack shortly after being released from Garda custody in 2019 has criticised the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) for a lack of transparency and openness in their dealings with the family during the subsequent investigation.
“My understanding is GSOC are there to assure the public that when situations arise with the guards they are openly and transparently investigated,” says Tullamore native Peter McCormack. “That is not being done, because they are not producing a report in public, not even for the family.”
Daniel (Danny) McCormack, a 40-year-old married man, died of a heart attack on the evening of Saturday 23 March 2019.
Earlier that evening, Mr McCormack complained of chest pains, and his wife Hazel rang a taxi to bring him to the local hospital.
Mrs McCormack stayed behind to arrange for a babysitter, before following along with Danny’s sister Tara.
When Hazel McCormack arrived at the hospital they found two Garda officers with Danny.
Hospital CCTV shows Danny McCormack brought into a room for examination, and later coming out of the same room. He talks with some security guards, before making his way back to reception. Peter McCormack, who was shown the footage by GSOC, describes his brother as “disorientated” and clutching his chest.
At some point, someone called the Garda, and two officers arrived. Tara and Hazel arrive shortly after.
The women try to talk to Danny, who is arrested at 8.15PM. Peter describes the CCTV at that point as showing Danny “slammed into the ground face first” before being handcuffed.
Danny was driven to the Garda station, arriving at 8.30PM, and he was released at 8.47PM and brought home by Garda officers.
Tara and Hazel arrived at the station on foot, but as Danny left by the rear entrance while they waited at the front reception desk, they did not realise when he left.
Shortly after being dropped off at home, Danny collapsed. A neighbour administered CPR, as did the ambulance crew when they arrived, but he was pronounced dead on arrival back at the hospital.
Hazel McCormack, still at the Garda station, first learned this was happening when she got a phone call from her nine-year-old daughter telling her “Daddy has collapsed on the floor”.
Peter McCormack says he has unanswered questions following the GSOC investigation.
“What happened at the hospital with the Guards? Why did the situation escalate so badly?
Why did they bring a man complaining of chest pains home, and not to the hospital?”
Mr McCormack said it took six months to obtain a copy of the custody record from GSOC. At one point, the family solicitor felt the need to point out GSOC were “mistaken in the assertion that it is appropriate to withhold that record simply because there is an ongoing investigation.”
A Garda custody record includes questions that are asked about a detained person’s physical condition.
“They asked Danny, are you suffering from any illness or medical condition. He answered he had chest pains.”
“Here was a gravely ill man, and they did not offer any assistance whatsoever. They did not call a doctor,” says Peter.
“They drove this man home while his wife, who was waiting in reception, would have taken him back to the hospital.”
“It was obvious even on the CCTV that this man was gravely ill.”
The Custody Record also states that no force was used before arriving at the Garda station.
“Looking at the CCTV from the hospital there is no possible way that you could answer no to that question,” says Mr McCormack.
“From what we have been able to seen in the custody record, I can see discrepancies. I would like to know how GSOC have approached those discrepancies.”
As a rule, GSOC do not comment on individual cases, a GSOC spokesperson confirmed. They did supply a brief statement when contacted by Village magazine.
“The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) investigation is concluded and no misconduct on the part of the Garda Síochána was found to have occurred,” the statement says. “The deceased’s family members and the gardaí have been informed of the finding of no misconduct. GSOC is now assisting the Coroner and awaits a date for the hearing of the Inquest.”
Solicitor James McGuill has confirmed a civil case is being brought against the Garda Commissioner and the HSE for negligence.