LONDON -- A British police officer was allowed to keep her job Friday after a disciplinary panel found her guilty of gross misconduct for unlawfully clubbing former professional soccer player Dalian Atkinson, who died after another officer used a stun gun and kicked him in the head.
An independent police disciplinary tribunal gave constable Mary Ellen Bettley-Smith a written warning after finding she unlawfully struck the Black former Aston Villa striker three times with her baton after he was subdued by her partner during an altercation in August 2016.
The West Mercia officer could have been stripped of her badge by the panel that was convened in Telford after she was acquitted at a criminal trial of causing bodily harm.
Bettley-Smith's conduct was “indeed serious” but she was on the periphery of the event and her partner's role was "several stages of magnitude different,” prosecutor Dijen Basu said at the hearing.
Constable Benjamin Monk was sentenced in 2021 to eight years in prison for manslaughter in the killing of Atkinson.
Monk claimed self-defense and said he feared for his life after Atkinson made threats and smashed a glass door pane.
Monk used a Taser on Atkinson for 33 seconds — more than six times longer than was standard — and kicked him at least twice in the head, leaving bootlace marks on his forehead.
Police had been called to the Telford home of Atkinson's father in central England after neighbors reported disturbances.
The panel found Bettley-Smith, 33, initially used her baton lawfully to strike Atkinson three times. But the blows after he had been kicked by Monk and was on the ground were “unnecessary, disproportionate and unreasonable in all the circumstances and were therefore unlawful."
Bettley-Smith claimed she perceived Atkinson was trying to get up, though witnesses said he wasn't moving.
Atkinson, 48, died about an hour later in a hospital.
Attorney Patrick Gibbs, who represented Bettley-Smith, said that the 6 1/2 years she's had to reflect on that night “must be a significant punishment in itself.” Her conduct before and after the 27 seconds when she delivered the final three blows had been admirable, he said.
“This involves a miscalculation in the heat of moment in the degree of force which still now needed to be used,” Gibbs said.
Atkinson’s sister said she was disappointed Bettley-Smith didn't lose her job.
“Our family has been shattered by it, absolutely shattered," she said of her brother's death. "At the end of the day, Dalian’s gone and it’s down to those officers.”
In December 2021 the chief of the West Mercia police force apologized to Atkinson's family, saying she was deeply sorry.
“A police uniform does not grant officers immunity to behave unlawfully or to abuse their powers,” chief Pippa Mills wrote.
Monk's conviction was a rarity in Britain. A lawyer for Atkinson's family said it was the first time in over 30 years that a serving officer was convicted on a manslaughter charge in connection with their duties.