29 Nov 2016

Tasers and dogs used on suspect in car, court told

9:06 pm on 29 November 2016

Four police officers have been accused of using excessive force when they fired tasers and set dogs on a wanted man, who died at the scene, in Napier last year.

Close up of a police officer at an incident on a residential street. 6 July 2016.

Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

The officers - who have name suppression - are on trial in the Napier District Court, charged with assault with a weapon.

Crown prosecutor Ben Vanderkolk said police were called to Raymond McPeake's home in Hastings in March 2015 after reports the 76-year-old had been beaten by his son, armed with what was described as a cosh.

Raymond McPeake was taken to hospital but Mr McPeake's son, 53-year-old Gregory McPeake, was nowhere to be found.

Mr Vanderkolk said the police briefing that followed was important because it set the tone for the evening.

The briefing described Mr McPeake as "a huge chronic alcoholic and a previous drug user". It said he "might be parked up somewhere drinking and contemplating suicide and there was a suggestion that he might want to kill his father and brother".

Mr Vanderkolk said an officer found Mr McPeake's two-door hatchback SUV parked up at Napier's Westshore. He put road spikes down before calling for back-up.

The officers called to Mr McPeake to get out of the car and when they got no response from the 179kg man, they decided to break the car's windows and use pepper spray.

"Because of his size, members of the jury, it may well be that where he was and perhaps because of the drugs and alcohol that he'd taken - that you will hear about in the course of this trial - Mr McPeake appeared somewhat resistant to the pepper spray," Mr Vanderkolk said.

Mr McPeake lashed out at the police and kept the doors locked, despite efforts to get him out.

Two officers fired tasers through the passenger's and driver's windows and two police dogs were also let loose in the car.

"He somehow managed to get one of the dogs tangled up in the wires of one of the tasers, or the cables, and he held the other dog by the muzzle very firmly."

When the officers finally got the door open, Mr McPeake fell out of the car and landed face down. He was unresponsive and, despite attempts by the police officers and ambulance staff, later died.

Mr Vanderkolk said toxicology reports showed Mr McPeake had various drugs in his system and the officers' actions had no part to play in his death.

He said, while police officers have the power to use force, it must be reasonable.

He said, in Mr McPeake's case, the officers used excessive force by firing their tasers and letting dogs on Mr McPeake, who was confined in his car.

Defence case

But defence lawyers for the police officers told the jurors that they had to judge the circumstances as the officers saw them at the time.

Lawyer Doug Rishworth summed it up like this: "You've got in front of you the agreed facts about Mr McPeake's medical condition, his weight. These were not matters known to any of these police officers.

"To them they knew he was a large man. To them that equalled violent, aggressive. A man who had just coshed on the head his elderly father."

He said officers knew they had to do their job, and that was to make the arrest.

A lawyer for another of the officers, Jonathan Krebs, told the jurors they would be able to hear and see footage captured by the cameras in the tasers. But he said that was only three minutes of the entire event, which had lasted much longer.

Susan Hughes QC, who was representing a third officer, said her client was entitled to use a degree of force to arrest Mr McPeake after his earlier alleged assault on his father.

Her client had also been told Mr McPeake could be armed with a crossbow, could be suicidal and that he was dangerous and needed to be arrested, Ms Hughes said.

Her client was doing his job as a police officer and was not a criminal, she said.

Rachael Adams, who was representing the fourth officer, said her client was relatively inexperienced but her job was to stop Mr McPeake from fleeing or harming himself.

Ms Adams said her client had to act.

The trial, before Judge Phillip Cooper and a jury, is due to hear from 28 Crown witnesses and is expected to last two weeks.