Firemen save cop from 5-man beating
NEIL REID, SIMON DAY AND MARYANNE TWENTYMAN
Volunteers, led by Callan Stewart, have been hailed for their bravery after coming to the rescue of a Waikato police officer who was being "ferociously" attacked by five men.
Perry Griffin, the lone constable in the coastal town of Kawhia, lost his Taser and a pistol during a prolonged attack that ended only when Stewart and his mates from the Kawhia Volunteer Fire Brigade responded to an emergency call from Auckland after no back-up police could be found for Griffin.
Griffin had gone to arrest a 19-year-old, who was wanted on outstanding warrants, shortly before 6pm on Friday.
The 49-year-old father of the teen attacked Griffin, who used pepper spray to no effect. He then turned to his Taser, which he managed to fire, allowing him to begin handcuffing one of the men. But he was then struck from behind and knocked to the ground, and his Taser was thrown in water.
"The officer has been kicked on the ground by a group of what we estimate to be five people and he has crawled into a ball," said the district's acting commander, Inspector Rob Lindsay.
Police described the attack as "ferocious" and said about 80 people simply stood there and watched.
Griffin was also armed with a pistol but that was knocked away from him during the fight.
"Fortunately for all concerned a member of the public recovered the officer's pistol," Lindsay said.
Griffin pressed his officer safety alarm that warned control centres an officer was down, but the nearest police - in Cambridge - were on a job at Ngahinapouri - 70 kilometres away.
Staff at Auckland's Northern Communications Centre called the Kawhia Volunteer Fire Brigade, led by Stewart.
Lindsay said the policeman was still on the ground being attacked when the fire brigade arrived. Members of the public then also intervened.
Waikato District fire commander Roy Breeze said "a tense and frightening situation" was brought under control because people involved on both sides knew each other.
"In the end everyone did what they could to restore calm and I commend my guys under the direction of Callan in assisting the police officer."
Kit Jeffries - an elected member of the Kawhia Community Board - last night also applauded Stewart's quick thinking and bravery.
He said Griffin, who started work in Kawhia in 2010, was "a good fella" who served the community well.
"He is a very keen outdoors guy; he loves fishing and does a bit of pig-hunting. And he has a lovely family ... his wife and kids are lovely people.
"He certainly didn't deserve that sort of treatment. It is a bloody shame that it has happened."
Griffin has temporarily left Kawhia with his family to recover.
"He has some severe bruising around his body and his head to the extent that this morning [Saturday] he is having trouble walking," Lindsay said.
Griffin was examined at the scene by ambulance staff and a local doctor and will undergo further medical examinations and police interviews today.
"The officer has asked me to acknowledge on his behalf the bravery shown by the firefighters and members of the public whose direct action prevented what could have been a far more serious outcome," Lindsay said.
"It is these people who are the true spirit of the Kawhia community."
An experienced rider, Griffin has acted as a mounted officer at special events in Hamilton in the past and helped lead the successful rescue of a female orca stranded in the estuary.
Three people, including the father and son and a 21-year-old, appeared in court yesterday facing charges of aggravated assault and assault with intent to injure, but at least two more of the attackers remain at large.
Describing the attack as vicious and cowardly, Lindsay said the Kawhia community holds the key in identifying those other two.
But one Kawhia resident, who did not wish to be named, said "nobody is speaking" about the incident for fear of retribution.
"It is disgusting to think that a wonderful man like our local police officer would be set upon like that," she said.
"He's a nice guy, a good guy - a real good cop." But, she said: "We know that locals were involved but everyone knows everyone here - so no one is saying much."
Jeffries said there was growing concern in the seaside settlement about the conduct of some locals.
"There are a few guys in Kawhia who are really into drugs and alcohol ... some of them are actually of an older age group too, which is quite disturbing, you would think some of them would have more brains to teach the younger ones some common sense," he said.
ATTACK SPARKS GUN DEBATE
The latest attack on police has refuelled the debate over arming officers, with the police association saying Constable Perry Griffin would not have been attacked had his gun been his "primary weapon".
Griffin carried a pistol which was knocked from his belt as he was attacked in Kawhia before being saved by local volunteer firefighters.
His acting district commander, Inspector Rob Lindsay, said "fortunately for all concerned a member of the public recovered the officer's pistol and took it to the firefighters who secured the weapon."
Police association vice-president Stuart Mills was adamant the incident proves the case for routinely arming police.
Griffin used pepper spray, then his Taser, but had not pulled his gun, even though he took it from his car because he believed the situation was threatening.
"If a firearm was the primary weapon then the situation would probably have been different. The offender would have known that the police officer was armed and treated the situation differently," Mills said.
"There are far too many officers who have been injured over the last few weeks, in the Christmas/New Year period. If police officers were armed it would change the situation of the safety of police officers, and also members of the public would be aware of the consequences of dealing with armed police officers.
"Policing is a dangerous occupation, let alone a sole policing role in a community like Kawhia."
The police association supports the general arming of the police force and this is the view of its membership, Mills said. Lindsay said Griffin "never got to the stage where there was the intention to pull out the pistol, although it was a tactical option that was there".
Although New Zealand police do not carry guns at all times, the weapons are available in situations where the threat is assessed as requiring a firearm. The incident in Kawhia was considered one of those occasions, so Griffin took a gun from his patrol car with him.
"He had discussed with his supervisor the need to have all his tactical options on him," Lindsay said.
"The police commissioner has made it quite clear that the police stance is that we are not a fully armed police force. However, officers have weapons at their disposal at a very short time period.
"We are not an armed force. As a matter of course we don't wear them, but if you feel threatened there are a number of situations where you can wear them, and that is a stance supported by a number of police."
When a Dargaville officer was beaten unconscious and had his Taser taken from him in December, the police association called for more discussion on arming police. Justice Minister Judith Collins reacted to that incident warily.
"In Dargaville... if that was a gun [not a Taser] we'd probably be going to a funeral, actually, for a police officer."
- Sunday Star Times