Gerard McMahon death: Family call for 'swift investigation' after CS gas Belfast arrest
The family of a man who died after police used CS spray in a bid to restrain him during a "violent" incident in Belfast city centre have called for a "thorough and swift investigation".
The man has been named locally as Gerard McMahon.
The west Belfast man was allegedly involved in an altercation with a number of taxi drivers on Great Victoria Street at around 5am yesterday morning when police attempted to arrest him.
He is not believed to have been armed and no weapons were recovered from the scene.
According to eyewitnesses, the man was dressed only in his underwear and had been behaving erratically.
CS spray was used by an officer during a struggle with the man, who then became ill.
Officers administered first aid at the scene of the incident until paramedics arrived.
A defibrillator was used as it was suspected the man had suffered a heart attack.
His mother and father, Gerard and Ella, said they wanted space to grieve.
"Our family are grieving for our son and brother Gerard and are calling on the Police Ombudsman's office to carry out a thorough and swift investigation into the circumstances of his death."
The Police Ombudsman said: "The man who became unwell during an incident involving police officers in Belfast City Centre has died.
"The incident, during which police officers used CS spray against the man, is currently being investigated by the Police Ombudsman's office."
Among those paying tribute on social media was Terri-Lee McMahon, who wrote: "Thinking of my daddy and the McMahon family on the loss of Gerard. RIP."
Emma McMahon, wrote on Facebook: "Can't believe my cousin... never know what's round the corner."
Robert Fitzsimons wrote: "Shocking news to say the least. RIP Geraldo McMahon. One of the good guys. No one would ever deserve that!"
And Casey Sesh Travers wrote: "RIP Geraldo McMahon. May God put his arms around. You could never have met a nicer person! DJ Mako - so sad."
Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly said he was shocked to learn of the death. "My thoughts are with his family at this tragic time," he added. "I have been in touch with senior police about the circumstances which led to Gerard being rushed to hospital."
"The Ombudsman has already launched an investigation into the detention of Gerard McMahon. That investigation must be thorough so that his grieving family get the full facts as quickly as possible."
Alliance councillor Emmet McDonough Brown tweeted: "Heartbreaking to hear of the death of Gerard McMahon. Such a tragic, tragic case. Thoughts with family and friends."
Chief Superintendent Chris Noble said: "Police wish to pass on our condolences to the family of the deceased.
"We will fully cooperate with the Police Ombudsman's inquiry and at this stage it would not be appropriate for the Police Service to comment further."
Officers believe that prior to the incident Mr McMahon may have taken the prescription drug Lyrica, also known as 'bud'. A police source told the Belfast Telegraph: "The detained person appeared to be high on drugs when officers arrived at the scene.
"He is believed to have taken Pregabline (Lyrica).
"CS spray was used when he kept fighting with officers. He is then suspected of taking a heart attack during the struggle."
Police Ombudsman investigators were at the scene yesterday to gather evidence and have also started to review CCTV footage of the incident.
Senior investigating officer Paul Murphy said the Ombudsman's office was informed by police at 6.30am yesterday that they had responded to a male who had been in an altercation with a number of taxi drivers outside the Grand Opera House.
Mr Murphy said a number of witnesses had come forward.
However, he also appealed for anyone else who may have been at the scene to contact the Ombudsman's office.
"This is now a Police Ombudsman investigation, so the Police Ombudsman's Office will now take primacy and we'll conduct an independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding the arrest and also the condition of the male in question," he added.
Irritant spray, also called CS spray or Pava spray, is used on a fairly frequent basis by officers and is one of the items in the standard police toolkit.
Exposure to the gas causes a burning sensation and significant tearing of the eyes to the extent that the subject cannot keep them open and is thus often incapacitated.