6 Dec 2016

'You can negotiate for as long as it takes'

9:07 pm on 6 December 2016

Police officers had no justification for using tasers on a wanted man who refused to get out of his car, an Armed Offenders Squad (AOS) senior manager has told a Napier court.

Sergeant Darrin Putt demonstrates the use of a taser.

A file photo of a police taser: Four officers were charged over their use of tasers, pepper spray and dogs against Napier man Gregory McPeake. Photo: RNZ / Samuel White

Four officers with name suppression have gone on trial in the Napier District Court, charged with assaulting Gregory McPeake with weapons. They had caught up with him on Napier's Westshore in March last year, after he allegedly assaulted his father.

When Mr McPeake refused to get out of his car, the officers smashed his windows, pepper-sprayed him, used tasers and let dogs loose inside, before he was dragged out face-first.

He died a short time later. The court has been told Mr McPeake's death had nothing to do with the officers' actions.

The officers have said they had information on the night that Mr McPeake was a big, suicidal man, who had just seriously assaulted his elderly father with a baton-like weapon and could be armed with a crossbow.

Canterbury AOS manager Inspector Bryan Buck said today the officers had contained Mr McPeake in his car, by sealing off exits with road spikes, and they should have called the AOS.

"I have the view, the strong view, that if staff truly had the PCA [perceived cumulative assessment] of death/GBH [grievous bodily harm] and believed Mr McPeake posed that level of threat with a crossbow, then a vehicle assault was not the appropriate tactic, at all."

The officers did not have to act, he said.

"In a case where this person, the sole occupant of a car, parked in front of a beach as it was, containment achieved through the positioning of road spikes and other staff that could be deployed to cut off points of exit - I was happy that containment was achieved, therefore time is your friend. In other words, you can negotiate with this person for as long as it takes."

Instead, two teams approached Mr McPeake's car, smashed windows, and used pepper spray, tasers, batons and police dogs to force him out of his car and make the arrest.

"Mr McPeake is totally passive, up to the time when police raise the level of aggression by assaulting the vehicle."

Officers could have been justified in using pepper spray on the non-compliant 179kg Mr McPeake, who closed his car door when police tried to get in and held the muzzle of a police dog set loose on him, he said.

But Mr Buck said they could not have been justified in using the more serious force of a taser, effectively four times.

He was asked by Crown prosecutor Ben Vanderkolk about the officers' claims that Mr McPeake had assaulted police before they used force.

"I think this is where I have some concern about some inconsistencies in the statements," he responded.

"There are claims from either side of the vehicle that staff, police officers, saw other police officers punched and assaulted, and, when you compare from the people alleged to have been assaulted, they make no reference to that."

He said, at one point during the confrontation, Mr McPeake was heard to say that he would get out of his car.

Under cross-examination from the officers' lawyers, Mr Buck agreed the test was what the officers had seen as the threat - and that some passages in their statements described Mr McPeake as assaulting the officers.

Another of the officers' lawyers, Rachael Adams, asked Mr Buck about the light, and Mr McPeake's hands not being visible to the officers.

Ms Adams asked: "Now if Mr McPeake was reaching for a weapon, that would clearly be assaultive behaviour, wouldn't it?"

Mr Buck replied: "Potentially."

But he said putting his hand in his pocket or out of sight did not amount to assault.

"I do not believe you are justified in using a high level of force on a person that does not have a weapon in their possession," Mr Buck said.

But he did agree that Mr McPeake could have driven out of the car park and potentially used his car as a weapon.

He also agreed that Ms Adams' client, a relatively inexperienced officer, had been let down by her superiors on the night, who had failed to show leadership.

Tomorrow, the jury will hear closing addresses from the lawyers before Judge Cooper sums up and they retire to consider their verdicts.

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