The family of an unarmed man shot dead by police as he fled a property being raided, said they were shocked that the police watchdog had not called for the officer, who remains in post, to be criminally investigated.
The watchdog, the Independent Office for Police Conduct, on Thursday announced that the West Midlands firearms officer who shot dead Sean Fitzgerald, 31, on 4 January 2019, in Coventry, has been served with a gross misconduct notice.
Liam Fitzgerald, Sean’s brother, said: “Whilst we are pleased that the officer who shot Sean has now at least been served with a gross misconduct notice, we are shocked that the IOPC considers that the officer should not be served with a notice that his actions are subject to a criminal investigation.
“We have only been given limited information to date, but that information indicates that the officer should be under criminal investigation in close co-ordination with the CPS [Crown Prosecution Service], with a charging decision being made without delay.”
The officer faces disciplinary action that could lead to his being sacked. No weapons were found in the property in Burnaby Road, Coventry, where Sean was killed. Two men, aged 26, were arrested on suspicion of being involved in growing cannabis. One of the men was bailed, the other released under investigation.
Fitzgerald said: “We also call upon West Midlands police to reconsider the status of this officer. Sean was totally unarmed when he died as a result of this officer’s actions and we don’t believe [the officer] should be able to continue carrying a firearm when potential gross misconduct has been identified. Sean is greatly missed by all his family and friends and we continue to seek answers and justice for him.”
Friends described Sean as a “very good guy” whom, they said, had served in the British army until recently.
Helen Stone, solicitor at Hickman and Rose, acting for Liam Fitzgerald, said: “It has been over two years since Sean’s death and his family needs answers. We expect the IOPC to carry out the rest of its investigation in a robust and timely manner so that they can receive these answers, and to constantly review the need for a criminal investigation.”
Deborah Coles, director of Inquest, said: “We hope this announcement will mark a step forward in achieving accountability in this case. However, we share the frustration of Sean’s family that too often deaths in police custody in this country are not investigated to the criminal standard, and police rarely face prosecution.
“At the very least, you would expect firearms officers potentially involved in gross misconduct would be prevented from continued public duties, as you would be in any other profession.”
The IOPC said that following “careful consideration” of the evidence it had concluded there was no indication that a criminal offence had been committed by the officer.
“As part of this investigation the officer who fired the fatal shot was last week served with a gross misconduct notice in respect of their use of force on Mr Fitzgerald during the police operation. Serving a notice advises the officer their actions are under investigation, it does not indicate that misconduct has been proven,” the IOPC said.
Derrick Campbell, IOPC regional director, said: “This was a tragic incident that led to a man losing his life and our thoughts are with the family and all of those affected by his death.
“This has been a particularly complex investigation looking at not only the shooting itself but the intelligence, assessments, planning and decisions which took place prior to the pre-planned police operation. It has been an evolving picture, and due to the nature of the issues involved we have had to await expert advice.
“Fitzgerald’s family and the force have been updated on our progress so far. Once our work, which is at an advanced stage, has concluded, along with the inquest and any disciplinary proceedings, we will be in a position to release the findings of our investigation.”