Trouble in a one-cop town

ARRESTING IMAGES: Police officer Perry Griffin during the altercation at Kawhia.
ARRESTING IMAGES: Police officer Perry Griffin during the altercation at Kawhia.

At Kawhia wharf on January 11, Jackie Maikuku refused to give himself up willingly when Constable Perry Griffin approached, hoping to end a long-running cat-and-mouse game over outstanding warrants.

For his resistance, Maikuku was pepper sprayed and tasered before his supporters allegedly set upon Griffin, assaulting him, stealing his Taser and somehow dislodging his gun. Everyone agrees on that.

Maikuku's family met with the Sunday Star-Times last week and acknowledged the teenager had had a few beers, that he knew about his warrants and the situation would have been different if he had complied with Griffin's demands. But they take exception to the way Griffin went about his business and disagree with the police version of events.

Police said Griffin phoned for help before his first attempt to arrest Maikuku but the nearest officers were in Ngahinapouri, nearly an hour away. The original report hailed a group of volunteer firefighters, led by Callan Stewart, as heroes, who responded to the officer's urgent request for backup as he was "curled into a ball" while being beaten.

However, the family say firefighters were only seconds behind Maikuku's father in reaching the scene before playing a role in breaking up the ensuing scuffle.

Police could neither confirm nor deny whether that was the case.

Neither Griffin - who suffered a sore hip, cuts and bruises - nor Stewart have commented on the situation and police responded in the same way to several questions put to them by the Sunday Star-Times: "Establishing the exact details of the events which took place is part of the ongoing investigation currently under way."

Although police will not confirm it, witnesses say Griffin - the western Waikato beach town's lone cop - had spent the morning on the picturesque wharf where he spotted Maikuku.

Griffin left and returned in his police uniform, equipped with Glock pistol, to arrest the man who was wanted on several charges, mostly related to breaching community-based sentences or driving offences.

What happened when Griffin confronted the teenager is the subject of much dispute. A video clip released by a bystander last week showed Griffin with his Taser in Maikuku's chest as the standoff develops but does little to push the argument for either police brutality on one hand or a dangerous and violent offender on the other.

Some witnesses believed Griffin's pistol came loose and was picked up by a member of the public because he had previously drawn it. Again, the police were unable to say whether that was the case.

Police jumped on the footage, saying it did nothing to refute their version of events, but last week the family confirmed there is more video which captures the developing melee.

The footage will be closely guarded until the matter reaches court, according to family.

About 30 other people had come forward with pictures and video which could go some way towards settling a dispute over the number of people who allegedly stood and watched as Griffin was attacked. Original reports said there were up to 80 bystanders. Police say 40 to 50 people saw the incident.

"The images and information provided are assisting us greatly in building an accurate picture of what happened before, during and after the event as we work to build up a case that will have its eventual conclusion in court," Western Waikato Area Commander, Inspector Paul Carpenter, said.

Jackie Maikuku and his father, Jack, will appear in Te Awamutu District Court tomorrow. A 15-year-old boy has also been referred to youth aid.

Jack, who is accused of assault with intent to injure and aggravated assault of a police officer, said he would defend the charges.

Jackie's family acknowledged the situation would not have developed had he given himself up, just as Griffin's backers agreed it was not a good look to have firearms brandished by the beach.

Jackie's court appearance will mark the next chapter in a fractious, ongoing relationship with Griffin, who are well known to each other, according to the Maikuku family, with Griffin often coming to the house to look for Jackie.

The pair had "history", said Jackie's mother Lisa Panapa.

"Up until last week Perry would often come to me and ask for my help to get through to Jackie, but those two have a long history and to be honest Jackie quite simply does not like Perry."

Long-term resident John Thomson reckoned the Maikuku-Griffin relationship typified one of the drawbacks of living in a small town like Kawhia, where there's no anonymity and people needed to get on with each other.

Thomson said that although he was not in the car park on the afternoon of January 11, he rated Griffin as "a good bloke and a good cop", who did not sweat the small stuff.

Panapa said she was not there to "defend, justify, excuse or condone" the actions of her loved ones.

"I'm here to give a face and a voice to two men - a father and a son - who have been portrayed as gutless, cowardly, lowlife mongrels," she said.

In the local pub, the barmaid was quick to dismiss the events of the past week as "blown out of proportion". But the mere mention of it had regulars glancing up from their beers.

Few people around the wharf were keen to discuss the events, but the empty newspaper stands by mid-morning betrayed their shyness.

On Wednesday afternoon two police officers strolled along the sea front, chatting to cafe owners and sharing jokes with the boaties.

When asked whether they were filling in for their mate "Griff" while he recovered, the police officers responded with a smile. "No, we're just having a look around, seeing what we can see."

A poster on the side of the town hall advertising the previous evening's public meeting states: "A public meeting in support of our policeman and his family to be held in the Kawhia Town Hall at 7pm Tuesday night".

The word "policeman" had been crudely torn away but even the Maikuku family said there was no great anti-police sentiment around town.

The real problem, Thomson said, was unemployment and boredom.

"When the kids have jumped off the wharf, then what?" he said.

Sunday Star Times