A man who died during an arrest at Westshore may have already had a heart attack and was also confined in his small car by his own morbidly obese frame, a jury was told in Napier District Court today.

The possibilities were revealed by Crown and defence counsel in opening addresses at the start of a trial in which four police officers each deny a charge of assaulting 179kg Gregory McPeake, 53, with a weapon as he sat at the wheel of a parked car in a carpark at the beach near Napier just before 1am on March 13, 2015.

Mr McPeake, of New Plymouth, had been wanted since hitting his 76-year-old father in the head with a cosh at the father's home in Prospect Rd, Hastings, about 6.15pm - more than six hours before he was found.

Crown prosecutor Ben Vanderkolk, of Palmerston North, emphasised several times there was "no causal link" between anything any of the accused officers did and the death, which happened at the carpark scene off The Esplanade, and just north of the Westshore Surf Lifesaving Club.


The names of the officers are suppressed from publication pending the outcome of the trial expected to last 2-3 weeks.

They are represented separately by barristers Susan Hughes, of New Plymouth, Jonathan Krebs, of Napier, Doug Rishworth, of Gisborne, and Rachael Adams, of Tauranga.

Judge Phillip Cooper and a jury of six men and six women were told by Mr Vanderkolk and all four defence counsel the case would be much about whether the force used by the officers in trying to make the arrest, considering what they knew at the time.

Mr Vanderkolk said Gregory McPeake was affectively confined in his smallish two-door Honda SUV by his own size and was "controlled" at the time, though not having complied with requests to get out of the vehicle.

Officers approaching from both sides smashed the windows and used various methods to subdue the quarry, including use of tasers from both sides.

But defence counsel said the officers had not been told the extent of Mr McPeake's size, and could not have known that he may have had a heart attack in the hours before the officers approached the vehicle with tasers, OC spray, a rifle, a pistol, and police dogs.

During the incident, a baton was used to force the man's grip on a handle inside the vehicle and he fell on to the ground.

Two police officers tried to tie his wrists before it was noticed he was no longer responsive.

Police and paramedics then began the unsuccessful attempt to keep him alive.

Lawyers said the defence would be that the officers acted in proper execution of their duty, and the force was proportionate to the details that were known to them.

Those details included Mr McPeake had carried out a serious assault on his 76-year-old father, he may have had a crossbow, he may have had suicidal tendencies, he may have intended to kill his father and brother, and he'd had alcohol and drugs issues.

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.