A motorist who was acquitted of endangering a garda by dragging him in through the car window before reversing has received a 20 month prison term for dangerous driving on the same night.
Jonathan Coelho (29) had denied putting Garda Conor Murray at risk of death or serious harm by dragging him in through the passenger window and reversing at speed.
He and his co-accused, Federico Carvalho (31) also denied striking and kicking the garda as his body was hanging halfway out the moving car at the end of high-speed pursuit through Dublin city centre on July 31, 2019.
Last Monday, after a short trial at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court, a jury took 18 minutes to return unanimous verdicts of not guilty to the assault charges against the two men and the endangerment charge against Coelho.
Coelho, of Duleek, Co Meath, had already pleaded guilty to four counts of dangerous driving, one count of endangering pedestrians and one count of driving without insurance on the night in question.
He admitted driving the car at speed through red lights and in the wrong direction along busy streets in Dublin city centre before crashing into a lamp post. At one point, he did a u-turn on a busy street, narrowly avoiding two pedestrians who had to take evasive action to avoid being hit, the court heard.
On Friday, the court heard that Coelho was disqualified from driving in the UK at the time of the Dublin city incident.
Coelho’s car was stopped at red lights when a garda car flashed its lights. The car then broke the red lights and, during a high speed chase drove, dangerously around the city streets before crashing.
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Coelho later told gardaí that he didn’t stop the car because he had no insurance. His co-accused, Mr Carvalho of Blessington St, Dublin, was simply getting a lift home from Coelho when the events unfolded and he repeatedly asked Coelho to stop the car, the trial heard.
Sentencing Coelho on Friday, Judge Melanie Greally backdated the sentence to take into account the time he has spent in custody since his arrest in July last year.
Handing down a sentence of 20 months, Judge Greally declined to suspend any portion of it and noted that the sentence being backdated “will result in his imminent release”. Coelho was recently diagnosed with cancer and is anxious to get treatment, the court heard.
The judge accepted the endangerment charge was at the lower end of the scale, but said Coelho “posed a risk to a whole variety of pedestrians and road users” throughout the incident.
She paid tribute to the gardaí who she said showed little regard for their own safety during their efforts to stop Coelho’s dangerous driving.
“Garda Murray has been identified as the officer who put himself most in harm’s way to bring this episode to an end,” Judge Greally said. This was “notwithstanding the outcome of the case”, she said.
The court heardthat Coelho has previous convictions in the UK for dangerous driving, battery and kidnapping his former partner.
Garda Wayne Carey told Diana Stuart BL, prosecuting, that Coelho has no previous convictions in Ireland but was jailed for 18 months and disqualified from driving for a year for the UK. Shortly after his release from prison in the UK he arrived in Ireland and committed the offences here.
Coelho and Mr Carvalho had pleaded not guilty to charges of assault causing harm to Gda Murray of July 31, 2019 at St Lukes’ Avenue, Dublin 8. Coelho had denied endangerment of Gda Murray.
Keith Spencer BL, defending, said his client previously suffered from cancer and got news recently while in prison that it has come back. He has a malignant tumour that requires surgery and is anxious to return to Italy to receive treatment there.
Coelho was born in Brazil but grew up in Italy, where his parents still live, the court heard.
Mr Spencer submitted that the endangerment charge was at the lower end of the scale and the entire episode was of a relatively short duration. He said his client was “effectively forced to go to trial” in respect of the counts relating to Gda Murray and he was “vindicated by the jury”.
He had urged Judge Greally to consider suspending the remainder of the sentence so Coelho could be released immediately to get medical treatment.