Police officer in court on assault charge

A rural Manawatu police officer is accused of assaulting a drunken and abusive man who tried to headbutt the officer on his way to the police station to be processed for drink-driving.

In the Palmerston North District Court, the policeman, who has name suppression until the end of his trial, is facing two charges of common assault from a night in December 2010.

Before Judge David Smith yesterday he entered not guilty pleas and his lawyer Mike Antunovic said the policeman was "simply doing his job".

In his opening statement Crown prosecutor Ben Vanderkolk described the arrested man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, as "verbally offensive" and "drunken". He was handcuffed and put in a patrol car.

"The first assault was in response to a drunken attempt at a headbutt," Vanderkolk said. "The accused, the Crown says, retaliated with two blows to the head and face."

At the police station, still handcuffed, the arrested man refused to get into his cell, Vanderkolk said.

"The accused placed him in a headlock. It appeared he may also have punched him while holding him. He [the arrested man] was taken forward while in the headlock position and thrown in the cell, where he landed face and chest first on the floor.

"Because he was still handcuffed with arms behind his back, [the arrested man] could do nothing to break his fall." The arrested man was left with a cut below his left eye, a black eye and other abrasions.

Vanderkolk said the policeman's actions "went beyond the force needed to do his job".

"It was a loss of self-control and a failure by the police officer to control his anger. There was deliberate gratuitous violence against a lawfully detained and secured [man]."

Vanderkolk said the police officer's account of what happened in the patrol car had changed.

But Antunovic said the arrested man's behaviour required the police to use force.

"[He] was not only intoxicated, but he was abusive, obnoxious and unco-operative," Antunovic said. "[The policeman] was simply doing his job. He was not acting with any criminal intent at the time."

Antunovic said the main issues of the trial would be self-defence and justified use of force.

When giving evidence, the arrested man said he was struck with a torch before he got into the police car.

He said he could not remember everything from the night because he was concussed, but said he was abusive at times - calling the policeman and the other female officer "smurfs".

At the police station he remembered being "manhandled".

When the police caught up with him, about 10pm, he was returning home after looking for friends who had been at his flat drinking.

He was driving with a breath-alcohol reading of 668 micrograms, above the legal limit of 400mcg.

When questioned by Antunovic, he denied hurling a "barrage" of insults at the police officers at his house and in the police car, although he again admitted dishing out some abuse.

He also denied being particularly offensive to the policewoman in the car, trying to headbutt the policeman and being unco-operative at the police station.

He said he could not recall arguing with a neighbour and throwing a bottle against her house. When asked about inconsistencies in the statements he made in December 2010 and March 2011 he said: "My first statement was rushed. It wasn't professional from both myself or the officer taking the statement."

The female police officer who drove the patrol car said the policeman told her the arrested man tried to headbutt him.

"I'm unaware of what went on in the patrol car. I can only say when we got back to the station yard there was a small cut under [the arrested man's] eye," the policewoman said.

She didn't see the policeman put the arrested man in the cell as her back was turned. The policewoman said she was aware "something was going on" and turned around to see the arrested man on the ground.

The trial continues.

Manawatu Standard