8 Dec 2016

Crown gives closing address in officers' assault trial

6:09 am on 8 December 2016

Four police officers accused of assault during an arrest deployed their weapons but failed to deploy time during the incident, a jury has been told.

A police car parked on the street.

Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

The Crown says the officers used excessive force when they used tasers and police dogs during the arrest, but lawyers for the officers say their clients were responding to a dangerous man who had just hospitalised his own father.

Four officers have denied charges of assaulting Gregory McPeake with weapons and are on trial at the Napier District Court.

Crown prosecutor Ben Vanderkolk told the jury in his closing address that Gregory McPeake was a 179kg man who was contained in his tiny Honda SUV, and the officers who responded had other options.

He said while McPeake smoked a cigarette and possibly had his angina medication spray in his hand, the officers used their tasers and police dogs without justification.

He said officers had been told Mr McPeake may have been armed with a crossbow but chose to approach his car across open ground anyway. He said that showed the risk of the crossbow had disappeared.

Mr Vanderkolk pointed to footage captured by the taser cameras that showed Mr McPeake trying to resist being arrested - but not striking out.

"At no time did his arms, first of all, come out of the car. The best I think it gets to is where he puts his hand out to close the driver's door."

Mr Vanderkolk said that was in direct contrast to claims made by some of the officers that Mr McPeake had assaulted police.

"I'm not saying they lied or made it up, but whether they carried into those interviews some subconscious thought, which they've created in their minds to justify what they did."

Mr Vanderkolk said there was no reason for the officers to put two dogs in the car, and one of the officers simply fired his taser with what he described as indifference.

He said while they deployed their weapons "they failed to deploy time" and should have sat back and re-assessed the situation.

Officer's duty to arrest Gregory McPeake - lawyer

One of the officer's lawyers, Susan Hughes QC, said her client's duty was to arrest Mr McPeake and stop him harming himself or others.

She said Mr McPeake was able to drive away because the road spikes had been put down in the wrong place. She also said he could have driven on to the beach.

Ms Hughes said her client saw Mr McPeake's hand reach forward towards the ignition and believed Mr McPeake could have used his vehicle as a weapon.

She said her client was the best person to assess the threat - not senior officers who had criticised her client's actions by watching the taser footage.

"He didn't get to sit behind a desk, winding a video of a snippet of the interaction backwards and forwards. He and his colleagues had to respond to what they saw and heard from Mr McPeake."

She said her client had been told Mr McPeake was suicidal and could be armed with a crossbow.

Ms Hughes said her client was a human - not a robot - and had acted on an honest belief that Mr McPeake remained a threat.

Lawyer says officer was 'brave' during arrest

Another of the officers' lawyers, Jonathan Krebs, said his client was a million miles away from being convicted.

He rubbished several conclusions reached by the Crown and encouraged the jury to see past the taser footage that only portrayed a fraction of the incident.

"That is a duty of a police officer - not to retreat - but to protect people, like the 12 of you, and the rest of us in court from an offender of this sort, potentially armed with a lethal weapon. Brave, you might think."

Mr Krebs said his client had been criticised for setting his dog on Mr McPeake while another dog was in Mr McPeake's car, but he said as soon as his client realised there were two dogs in the car, he pulled his out.

He said his client was also unaware when the keys were pulled out of Mr McPeake's car and believed until that happened, and they had Mr McPeake in custody, he still posed a threat.

Doug Rishworth represented another of the officers and described the Crown's case as "trial by hindsight".

He said his client had fired a taser at Mr McPeake after seeing him reach behind his seat.

Mr Rishworth said the pepper spray had been ineffective and Mr McPeake had to be detained.

He said all three of the Crown witnesses who were at the scene on the night had made no criticism of the officers' actions.

He invited the jury to bring in verdicts of not guilty "so these four officers can continue providing the service required and policing required to keep our streets and communities safe."

He said while his client had been criticised by the Crown, he actually spent more time trying to resuscitate Mr McPeake than arrest him.

The court has heard Mr McPeake died at the scene after taking an overdose of medication and suffering a heart attack earlier in the night. The court has also been told the officers' actions played no part in his death.

Jurors will hear final closing address before Judge Phillip Cooper sums up the case and they retire to consider their verdicts.

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