A MAN was pepper-sprayed before being wrongfully arrested and thrown in a cell while on a night out with friends.

Firas Albaja was left in agony and unable to see after being sprayed in the face by PC Joanne Sturgess in Brighton.

When he later called an ambulance because he was struggling to breathe, officers took it upon themselves to cancel the paramedics.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), which was called in to investigate, published a damning report into the incident in which they called on Sussex Police to launch legal proceedings against PC Sturgess for assault and perverting the course of justice.

However, force bosses decided not to refer the case to the CPS, stating it was “not in the public interest”.

The incident dates back to the early hours of November 3, 2013, when Mr Albaja, a property agent from Hove, was on a night out with friends in East Street, Brighton.

In his written complaint to the force, the 24-year-old states he was at the scene of an altercation when officers arrived and pinned one of his friends to the floor.

He said: “They had his neck on the kerb and I thought he was going to be seriously injured. I had only read in the paper that day how a man was paralysed after a similar incident so I was obviously concerned. I wasn’t violent, as the IPCC found, and I just told them to get off him.”

At that point, although the IPCC state there was no “confrontation” and the situation was not “overtly volatile”, PC Sturgess arrived and pulled out her captor spray.

Mr Albaja said she then walked up and swore at him before spraying his face and neck.

He said: “I was in extreme pain and could not see anything. After I regained some sight, I looked to see where the police officer was so I could take her number down.”

There had been no attempt to arrest Mr Albaja and PC Sturgess had gone. Still in agony, he went home and immediately called police to complain before having a shower to try to wash off the spray.

But when the water made it worse, he called an ambulance. Within minutes, two men arrived outside his house. Thinking they were paramedics, he let them in – only to discover they were police officers.

They arrested him and took him to a police station and, on the way, he claims to have been subjected to racial abuse – another matter the IPCC and Sussex Police are looking into. The police deny the officers were being racist – instead stating they were being sarcastic.

After later requesting information from the ambulance service he would discover the police decided to stand the paramedics down – a decision criticised by the IPCC. On arrival at the station he was put in a cell where he said he repeatedly requested medical care – to no avail.

After a number of hours he was taken to a police interview room and later charged with obstructing/resisting a constable in the execution of duty.

The charge was subsequently dropped when it became clear there were inconsistencies in PC Sturgess’s version of events and the CCTV footage. The force has since apologised for his wrongful arrest stating they acted on PC Sturgess’s “erroneous information”.

The IPCC report found she had a case of gross misconduct to answer. However, she resigned before internal proceedings could be started.

Although she cannot be subject to internal disciplinary proceedings, the IPCC said Sussex Police should have pursued a criminal investigation for assault and perverting the course of justice. While the time limit has now passed for pursuing the former, the latter is still available to them – and the IPCC has recommended they look into it.

However, the force has ruled this out. Detective sergeant J McGorry, who responded to the IPCC findings in a police report, said: “The available evidence does not sufficiently demonstrate that the actions of Joanne Sturgess intended to pervert the course of justice.

“While it is not questioned that the content of her witness statement is significantly contradicted by the CCTV evidence... it is my assessment that the evidence available still does not indicate that the actions of Joanne Sturgess amount to the deliberate commission of a criminal act.”

Following the IPCC report, Sussex Police paid Mr Albaja £15,700 in compensation.

A spokeswoman said: “The victim approached the IPCC and we have taken on all the recommendations, except pursuing this as a criminal investigation.”

“We have apologised to the victim for his unlawful arrest and he has been awarded a civil claim.”

The force is also making “additional enquiries” into the allegation of racism and launching “management action” against the officers who denied medical care.

Mr Albaja said: “The people need to know what happened, this can’t happen again. I think legal proceedings should be launched – she shouldn’t be allowed to get away with this.”

The Argus contacted Ms Sturgess. She said: “I’m not speaking to you about this,” before hanging up.