A judge has jailed a 21 year old Limerick man for six months for a ‘TikTok assault’ on a female Garda sergeant who remains in constant pain and is unable to return to work two years after the late night assault at the seaside resort of Kilkee.
At Kilrush Circuit Court, Judge Francis Comerford imposed a 30 month prison sentence suspending the final 24 months on apprentice mechanic, Stephen Cotter of Oakfield, Fr Russell Rd, Dooradoyle, Limerick after he pleaded guilty to the assault causing harm of Sgt Edel Burke on August 1st, the Saturday night of the August Bank Holiday weekend in 2020.
As part of her victim impact statement, married mother of three, Sgt Burke stated that she has been unable to return to work due to continuing pain and trouble sleeping following the assault.
Community Policing Sgt Burke said, “My unit has lost their sergeant and I have lost my unit. I am unsure of my return to work date or what responsibilities I will have but I am not able for full confrontational duty at present”.
Sgt Burke stated that “the two minute interaction with Mr Cotter should not have left me in constant pain” since August 2020.
Imposing sentence, Judge Comerford said, “Even though Stephen Cotter didn’t intend to do this level of damage to Sgt Burke he did do this level of damage to Sgt Burke”.
In an interview with Gardai after the assault, Mr Cotter – who was drunk on the night – said, “I didn’t mean to harm her – it wasn’t on purpose”.
Judge Comerford said that he accepted that it wasn’t a premeditated attack and that Mr Cotter made no deliberate attempt to cause this level of harm to Sgt Burke. Judge Comerford stated that the actual offending does have to be marked by an immediate custodial prison term.
Counsel for the State, Lorcan Connolly BL said that the incident was filmed on a mobile phone and widely circulated on social media but that Mr Cotter was not responsible for this.
Sgt Katie Carthy told the court that Sgt Burke came across the incident on clips that appeared on TikTok and Snapchat.
In her victim impact statement, Sgt Burke said, “A video of this assault was circulated widely on social media and a photo of me falling was used in national newspapers condemning the assault – this was hard to view”.
In her witness statement Sgt Burke said large crowds had gathered at the Strandline in Kilkee on the night and it was challenging to police as there was alcohol consumed and a number of public order incidents had already taken place.
Sgt Carthy said that when Sgt Burke approached Mr Cotter to carry out a drugs search on Mr Cotter, he spat at her while wearing a facemask. Sgt Carthy said that no salvia was spat on Sgt Burke and he spat inside the mask.
Sgt Carthy said that according to Sgt Burke, Mr Cotter then said ‘it is the f**king pigs who have the virus. Not me. I will get it off the f**king pigs’.
Sgt Burke then went to arrest Mr Cotter and he resisted shoving Sgt Burke back and she fell back with her left hand and elbow hitting the ground.
Sgt Burke said that to date she has spent €6,000 on various medical and physio bills to deal with the injury sustained from the assault. Sgt Burke said that a MRI scan detected a partial tear of a tendon in her shoulder.
She stated, “My swallow has been affected by this assault. The muscles in my throat have been damaged and I have to do a double swallow. It has affected my speech also but a consultant in Galway has told me that hopefully time will work this out.
Sgt Burke has tendon damage in her elbow and wrist and had an operation in September 2021 to decompress pressure on a nerve.
Sgt Burke stated that the surgery has been successful “but I have been left with a two inch scar and severe stiffness which I am receiving ongoing physical therapy for”.
Sgt Burke stated that a doctor advised that surgery would be too risky to address another nerve compression and she receives five grams of two injections into her elbow every six to eight weeks to deal with the pain.
Sgt Burke stated, “A further MRI in Dec 2021 found fluid on the nerve and this is causing pain that I am still suffering with”. Sgt Burke said that her “sick record was excellent up to this point in my career”.
Counsel for Mr Cotter, Pat Whyms BL stated that Mr Cotter had no drugs on him on the night “and his purpose was to get away and not a deliberate attack to knock the Garda on the ground”.
Mr Whyms said: “What should have been a minor matter was escalated by Mr Cotter to a significant issue. Mr Cotter’s judgment was seriously impaired”. Mr Whyms added that it was never Mr Cotter’s purpose to cause injury to the garda and or assault the garda
He said, “This victim has been very unlucky from just being pushed over and sustaining the injuries we have heard about”.
Mr Whyms said that Mr Cotter was able to offer €2,000 to Sgt Burke but Judge Comerford didn’t order that the money be paid over.
The court was told that Mr Cotter has a previous assault conviction and two for drugs possession.