A British police officer has been found guilty of the manslaughter of former professional soccer player Dalian Atkinson, but he was cleared of his murder, a spokesperson for Birmingham Crown Court told CNN on Wednesday.
Atkinson, a former forward for English Premier League football team Aston Villa, went into cardiac arrest after officers used a Taser on him in Telford, central England, in August 2016.
The court heard that Police Constable Benjamin Monk used a Taser on Atkinson for 33 seconds — more than six times the recommended time — and kicked him twice while he lay on the ground.
Paramedics were unable to save Atkinson and he died around 90 minutes later.
Monk denied any wrongdoing and said he believed there was a danger to life for him and his colleague, the court spokesperson confirmed to CNN.
Monk was cleared of the charge of murder but found guilty of manslaughter, which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
Monk’s conviction is the first time in 35 years that a police officer has been found guilty of murder or manslaughter following a death involving police contact or in custody.
He told the court that Atkinson, 48, appeared to be having a mental health crisis, made death threats and smashed a glass door pane at his childhood home in Telford, the PA Media news agency reported.
Monk claimed Atkinson was trying to get up when he aimed kicks at his shoulder in self-defense after he had run out of Taser cartridges, according to PA. But prosecutors said the officer lied about the number of kicks he had delivered to Atkinson’s head, claiming he could remember only one aimed at his shoulder, PA reported.
Monk also claimed to have no recollection of putting his foot on Atkinson’s head as authorities arrived at the scene, the outlet reported.
During his 16-year career, Atkinson also played for Ipswich Town and Sheffield Wednesday in England as well as teams in the Spanish, Turkish and South Korean leagues.
A notably talented player, Atkinson scored a spectacular goal against Wimbledon in December 1992, which the BBC’s “Match of the Day” program voted goal of the 1992-1993 season.
“Dalian Atkinson is much missed by all his family and friends and the footballing communities of the clubs he played for in his long and successful career as a professional footballer, especially Ipswich Town, Sheffield Wednesday and Aston Villa,” Atkinson’s family said in a statement following the verdict.
“Dalian’s footballing talent led him to achieve great things in his life. Our sincere hope is that now that the truth about his death is known, and justice has been done, we can start to remember him not for the manner in which he died, but for the way in which he lived,” the statement continued.
Sentencing will take place on Monday, PA reported. The court is still deliberating an assault charge against relating to another police officer.