Officer gave others escape route

By Vaimoana Tapaleao

Gage, a  6-year-old police dog, lies dead on the road after being shot in July 2010.  Photo / Simon Baker
Gage, a 6-year-old police dog, lies dead on the road after being shot in July 2010. Photo / Simon Baker

Sergeant Michael Wardle knows how close he came to knocking on death's door.

In 2010, the then constable and a fellow officer, Constable Mitch Alatalo, responded to a routine search at a house in Phillipstown, Christchurch.

Police believed the occupants had been growing cannabis somewhere on the property. When a man inside the house began acting aggressively towards them, the officers called for back-up and Constable Marty Stiles and Senior Constable Bruce Lamb - with his dog, Gage - turned up.

They decided to try to talk the man into coming out of a bedroom he had locked himself in.

"It was actually me who was supposed to be knocking on the door, not Bruce and Gage," Mr Wardle told the Herald.

"One of my roles in the police is as a member of the police negotiation team. The briefing was, I was to knock on the door and speak to the offender; with Mitch standing behind me and Bruce and Gage down the other end.

"But ... Gage sort of pushed past me. And Bruce ... he was there and I had no problems with him knocking on the door."

Sergeant Michael Wardle has been recognised for his brave actions.
Sergeant Michael Wardle has been recognised for his brave actions.

When Mr Lamb opened the door, a man - holding a rifle - shot him in the face, seriously injuring the officer. Police dog Gage jumped in front of Mr Lamb, just as another bullet was fired, and he was also shot - this time, fatally.

Mr Alatalo managed to escape through a window, but not before being shot in the leg.

Mr Stiles appeared and ran towards Mr Lamb, in a bid to get him to safety. Mr Wardle fired his Taser at the man, but he was not affected.

The man aimed his rifle at Mr Wardle, but when the weapon jammed, Mr Wardle reloaded his Taser - which saw the man briefly run for cover as the officers got out of the house. His facing the man and decision to reload his taser is thought to have given the officers a chance to escape - saving their lives.

Today, Mr Wardle receives a NZ Bravery Decoration (NZDM) for an act of exceptional bravery in a situation of danger.

He said he and wife Donna were extremely proud. "But it seems funny that in order to get something as awesome as this, something absolutely terrible had to happen.

"Bruce and Gage really took bullets that ... probably should've been for me. Gage lost his life and it's really hard to say thank you for that."

Mr Lamb, whose jaw was shattered by the bullet, and Mr Alatalo were released from hospital within days of the incident. The offender, Christopher Graeme Smith was sentenced to 14 years behind bars for the attempted murder of a police dog handler, wounding another officer and killing a police dog.

- NZ Herald

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