A 19-year-old man has been sentenced to four years in prison with the final nine months suspended for what a judge described as a racially-motivated attack which took place on a busy afternoon in Eyre Square.
Goodnews Onyenweson, 82 Binn Bán, Cappagh Road, Knocknacarra, pleaded guilty before Galway Circuit Criminal Court to a charge of violent disorder, in that he along with three other youths acting together used or threatened to use violence in a public place on May 4 last year.
He also pleaded guilty to assaulting an Afghan national, causing him harm, on the same date and further pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of assault involving an assault on a café employee, who intervened to stop the first assault.
Sergeant Paul McNulty said he and Detective Sergeant John McElroy responded to a report of an assault which took place at 1.30pm outside Café Express.
They spoke to the male staff member who witnessed four youths attack two other youths on the footpath outside the café.
He said he intervened to stop the fight but was punched in the face by one of the four attacking males, later identified as the accused.
All four fled the scene towards Forster Street before Gardai arrived.
The witness said a young man had been kicked and punched in the face and head on the ground and looked disorientated before leaving the area.
Sgt. McNulty said he viewed CCTV footage, which made for “horrendous viewing” and saw one of the gang punch a youth who then fell to the ground. Onyenweson then stood over the victim and punched him five times in the head as he lay on the ground. He then kicked the victim four times in the head and face.
A third member of the gang was captured on CCTV kicking the same victim three times in the back and punching him to the head three times.
“I specifically observed and counted the number of vicious strikes on the CCTV,” Sgt McNulty told the sentence hearing.
He said the video footage captured the male member of staff from the café running out. He stood between the victim – who was still on the ground – and the accused.
The accused then punched him into the face for stopping the attack.
Other members of staff helped the victim to a seat as the gang fled across Kennedy Park.
Sgt McNulty said the violent attack took place on a very busy Friday afternoon of a Bank Holiday weekend and the area was packed with passersby at the time.
All four were later arrested and questioned. The other three, one of whom is a juvenile, face sentence in July for their part in the attack.
Onyenweson admitted kicking and punching the first victim as he lay on the ground. He also admitted punching the staff member who came to the victim’s aid.
The Afghan national gave a statement to Gardai that he and a friend were walking through Eyre Square when a group of males started staring at them. Words were exchanged and he said he was struck across the side of his head with a phone and was assaulted on the ground.
He sustained bruising to the side of his head, a chipped tooth and cuts to his lips and nose.
The court heard he is from Afghanistan and has lived in a city hostel for the past year.
Sgt McNulty confirmed the accused had four previous convictions for assault, trespass and public order offences. He said he was of Nigerian descent and was now a naturalised Irish citizen.
He said the accused was a prominent member of this gang and that the others were facing sentence in July.
Passing sentence, Judge Rory McCabe said there had been a racist, vicious element to this attack.
“This was a totally random, immediate attack with no possible justification for it,” the judge said.
The maximum sentence for violent disorder, he noted, was ten years before placing the headline sentence for this particular incident at six years.
He said the headline sentence for the assault causing harm charge which carried a five-year maximum sentence, stood at the high end on the scale of gravity and merited a four-and-a-half year sentence.
The lesser assault charge carried a maximum of six months and the assault on the staff member merited three months, the judge said.
“Reading the probation report handed into court today, he does not take this very seriously,” Judge McCabe said of the accused.
However, he said he had to take the mitigating circumstances into account when arriving at an appropriate sentence and in that regard, the accused had co-operated with Gardai, pleaded guilty, was young and was now saying he was sorry.
He noted that prison for a non-national was deemed to cause extra hardship, even though the accused had been living in Ireland for a long time.
He concluded by saying the proper sentence for the violent disorder charge was four years. He imposed a concurrent three-year sentence for the more serious assault on the first victim and imposed a concurrent two-month sentence for the assault on the staff member.
The final nine months of the four-year sentence was then suspended for five years on condition he come under the supervision of the probation service on his release from prison for 12 months.
The sentences were backdated to January 10 last when he went into custody.