Police officers' trial starts in Napier court

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Four police officers are on trial for allegedly assaulting Gregory McPeake during an arrest.
Four police officers are on trial for allegedly assaulting Gregory McPeake during an arrest.

Four Hawke's Bay police officers charged with allegedly assaulting a desperate fugitive who then died under arrest acted with reasonable force based on what they knew at the time, lawyers say.

Police were aware Gregory McPeake, 53, had serious assaulted his 76-year-old father Ray McPeake.

They believed he could have been armed with a crossbow, was possibly suicidal and could have had intent to kill his father and brother.

But what they may not have known was that when confronted at Napier's Westshore Beach early on the morning of March 13, last year, McPeake may have already had a heart attack and at 179kg was so big, and drugged, he would have struggled to follow police orders to get out of his small two-door vehicle and surrender.

He was confined by his size and was "immobile," Crown prosecutor Ben Vanderkolk, of Palmerston North, yesterday told the opening of a Napier District Court trial.

When Mr McPeake did get out, he fell and did not get up.

He stopped moving as police tried to tie his wrists and died soon afterwards, fulfilling the belief by his father that when his son fled after bashing him in the head with a cosh a few hours earlier he would not see his son again.

Called as the first of about 28 Crown witnesses, Mr McPeake Snr said his son knew that by assaulting his parents at their Hastings home he had "crossed the line" and agreed that his son would have understood there was "no way back."

Earlier, in his opening address, Mr Vanderkolk emphasised repeatedly that there was no causal link between the death and anything any of the officers did.

He and defence counsel Susan Hughes, of New Plymouth, Jonathan Krebs, of Napier, Doug Rishworth, of Gisborne, and Rachael Adams, of Tauranga, acting separately for each of the accused who have interim name suppression, said the case was about whether the force used by the officers when McPeake was tasered, hit with OC spray and bitten by police dogs was reasonable in the circumstances.

Mr Vanderkolk told Judge Phillip Cooper and a jury of six men and six women Gregory McPeake had been staying at a motel in Hastings after travelling from New Plymouth several days beforehand.

Police were called to the home of Ray McPeake and wife Barbara after the assaults happened about 6.15 on March 12.

Mr McPeake was taken to hospital with head and spinal injuries.

Police were unaware of McPeake's whereabouts until just before 12.50am when the Honda SUV was seen at a car park off The Esplanade by an officer who laid road spikes to confine the vehicle.

Appeals made by police for McPeake to get out of the vehicle were heard across the neighbourhood, Mr Vanderkolk.

Getting no response, a group staff, including all four accused, advanced on the vehicle, armed with tasers, OC Spray, and batons, with a rifle and a pistol available, and smashed the windows of the vehicle.

Tasers and spray were fired at him with little effect as he tried to strike out at officers.

McPeake grabbed one of the dogs that entered the car by the snout before an officer used a baton to prise McPeake's hand from a handle and he fell out, Mr Vanderkolk said.

McPeake immediately became unresponsive and first aid was started, using officers and St John paramedics, Mr Vanderkolk said.

McPeake died at the scene about 2.10am.

His father told the court he had not seen his son in at least two years, and was wary of his violent nature, alcoholism and drugs use.

He had been trying to get his son to leave his home when he was struck with the cosh, and ended up in a struggle in which he was struck several times.

Mr Vanderkolk said evidence to be produced at the trial would be a toxicology report highlighting Mr McPeake's use of a lethal array of drugs. Among other evidence will be images from cameras in the taser units.

The trial is expected to take at least till the end of next week.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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