AN asylum seeker who refused to leave Hanratty’s Asylum Centre in Limerick city after he was served with a transfer notice by management was acquitted of trespassing charges.
However, Steve Nkosi (35) was convicted of assaulting a female garda during a tense stand-off at the centre on March 27, 2013.
During a contested hearing, which lasted for several hours, Judge Aeneas McCarthy was told there were a number of incidents at Hanratty’s on the day.
Gardai were first called at 1.20pm to attend a disturbance in the reception area.
Garda Michelle Fahy said when she arrived the defendant and around 20 other people had gathered in the lobby area.
She said Mr Nkosi - a South African national - was “very irate” and was “agitated and loud”.
The court was told earlier in the day he had been handed a warning letter after an unauthorised iron was found during a room check.
After he refused to accept the letter, gardai were called and while they were present, he was handed a “transfer notice” informing him that he was to immediately move to an asylum centre in Waterford.
However, Mr Nkosi insisted he would not leave and told gardai the only way he was leaving was if he was arrested.
Garda Fahy said she and a colleague spent over an hour “trying to talk him down” before ultimately arresting him for public order offences at 2.40pm.
She said as she placed handcuffs on him, he resisted and twisted the cuffs around her wrist resulting in her sustaining minor scrapes and cuts.
The court was told as Mr Nkosi was being taken to the patrol car, a large crowd of residents gathered outside the asylum centre.
“They were chanting ‘freedom, freedom’,” said Garda Fahy who added that at one point the defendant got out of the patrol car in an attempt to incite the crowd.
Due to the size of the crowd and the tense atmosphere additional gardai were deployed to calm the situation.
Garda Sean O’Regan, who responded to the call for assistance, said he observed Garda Fahy being violently pushed by the defendant as he resisted arrested.
He later rejected suggestions made solicitor John Gerard Cullen that the incident was “more of entertainment value” rather that a near riot.
“I was in fear, if they had moved two or three feet nearer we would have been in trouble,” he said.
The court was told that when Mr Nkosi was eventually brought to Henry Street garda station, he was processed and later charged in connection with the disturbance before being released on bail at around 7pm.
However, gardai were called to Hanratty’s again shortly after 8pm as Mr Nkosi was refusing to leave his room.
Sergeant Kevin Balfe said when he and a number of colleagues went to the asylum centre they spoke with the defendant who was “refusing point blank” to leave the asylum centre.
The court was told Mr Nkosi had been allowed back in to collect his belongings before travelling to Waterford.
However, no arrangements had been put in place to assist him in getting there on public transport.
Sgt Balfe said after he was shown the transfer notice from the Residential Intergration Agency (RIA) and was informed Mr Nkosi was no longer a resident at Hanratty’s he formed the opinion he was trespassing and arrested him.
Mr Nkosi’s solicitor, John Paul Cullen, said his client was not afforded an opportunity to appeal the transfer notice, which he submitted did not have any standing in law.
He added that there were no buses running when it was decided to “put him out on the street” and he said his client, who is paid €19 a week in direct provision, could not afford to stay anywhere else.
Mr Cullen also criticised gardai for not preserving all available CCTV footage saying the “selective presentation” of certain footage was prejudicial to Mr Nkosi.
After considering the matter, Judge McCarthy said he was satisfied the defendant had been reckless and had caused injury to the garda.
He convicted him of assaulting Garda Fahy, resisting arrest and engaging in threatening and abusive behaviour.
However, he dismissed the trespass charge saying he was not satisfied that adequate provisions had been made to ensure Mr Nkosi would be in a position to travel to Waterford in compliance with the transfer notice.