A police officer has been found guilty of gross misconduct for using excessive force after she repeatedly struck former Aston Villa player Dalian Atkinson with a baton, a disciplinary panel has found.
The tribunal found on Friday that PC Mary Ellen Bettley-Smith, a West Mercia officer, acted wrongly when she struck Mr Atkinson three times during an incident on 15 August, 2016, in which the former footballer later died.
Mr Atkinson died after being kicked at least twice in the head by PC Bettley-Smith’s more experienced colleague, PC Benjamin Monk, outside his father’s home in Telford, Shropshire.
Mr Atkinson had been tasered to the ground before he was kicked and then PC Bettley-Smith used her police-issue baton claiming she “perceived” he was trying to get up.
Eyewitnesses said the 48-year-old former player was “not moving” and “was not resistant”.
The tribunal found three initial strikes before Monk kicked Mr Atkinson were “lawful”, but it found PC Bettley-Smith’s decision to then hit him a further three times – after police back-up had arrived – was “unnecessary, disproportionate and unreasonable”.
Monk was jailed for eight years in 2021 after he was convicted by a jury at Birmingham Crown Court on manslaughter.
His conviction is believed to be the first time in modern British criminal justice history that a UK police officer was found guilty of the manslaughter of a black man, according to Inquest, which supports the bereaved following state-related deaths.
PC Bettley-Smith was last year cleared of assaulting Mr Atkinson after a trial – but the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) found there was a gross misconduct disciplinary case to answer for her use of force.
Karimulla Khan, chairman of the panel, said on Friday the three baton strikes by PC Bettley-Smith were “unnecessary, disproportionate and unreasonable in all the circumstances and were therefore unlawful”.
The panel is now set to hear evidence on whether the 33-year-old, who was a probationary officer at the time of the incident, should be allowed to keep her job or face a lesser sanction.
Patrick Gibbs KC, representing PC Bettley-Smith, said: “The six and a half years… must be a significant punishment in itself and there will have ben a long time of reflection for what happened on that night.”
He said the conduct of the police officer, a University of Hull graduate originally from Staffordshire, “had, until that moment, been admirable” and that her unlawful baton strikes had occurred in the space of a 27-second period.
“This involves a miscalculation in the heat of moment in the degree of force which still now needed to be used,” he added.