Lawyer urges jury to put themselves in place of officers on trial for assault

Gregory McPeake, who died while being arrested in Napier on March 13, 2015.
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Gregory McPeake, who died while being arrested in Napier on March 13, 2015.

Gregory McPeake had violently assaulted his father and was drunk, drugged and possibly suicidal when police found him in his parked car shortly before 1am on March 13 last year.

The morbidly obese 53-year-old father refused to get out of the small two-door Honda SUV, parked at the crest of Westshore beach, Napier. 

So police officers used pepper spray, police dogs and Tasers. Eventually he got out, but died as he was being arrested.

Crown prosecutor Ben Vanderkolk said the four unnamed officers' use of force on McPeake was excessive.
DAVID UNWIN/ FAIRFAX NZ

Crown prosecutor Ben Vanderkolk said the four unnamed officers' use of force on McPeake was excessive.

Now four officers are on trial in Napier District Court for assaulting him. There is no suggestion they were responsible for his death, but the Crown alleges they used excessive force in making the arrest.

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Crown prosecutor Ben Vanderkolk said McPeake, who weighed 179 kilograms, was contained and confined in the parked car, and did not present a threat.

Police at the scene in Westshore, Napier, where McPeake died while being arrested.
JOHN COWPLAND/ FAIRFAX NZ

Police at the scene in Westshore, Napier, where McPeake died while being arrested.

The jury heard that police had been looking for McPeake after he assaulted his father the previous evening.

He had driven to Hastings from his home in Taranaki and had spent four nights in a motel before calling his parents to say he was making an unannounced visit.

His father Raymond, 76 at the time, told the court the family had not seen McPeake for "at least a couple of years". 

Bianca McPeake with her father's ashes.
CHARLOTTE CURD/ FAIRFAX NZ

Bianca McPeake with her father's ashes.

He said his son had been hoping for some kind of reconciliation. They spoke for a while, but his son would talk only about his own views.

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Raymond believed he was drunk. He asked him to leave and return the next day.

"I turned my head and he was rushing right at me ... That's when he swung the truncheon, or whatever it was, and struck me in the head," he said.

McPeake died when he fell out of his car, was pinned down and arrested.
JOHN COWPLAND/ FAIRFAX NZ

McPeake died when he fell out of his car, was pinned down and arrested.

Gregory McPeake struck his father in the head several times, and the pair fell to the floor, continuing to wrestle.

"I thought this was going to be it," Raymond said.

His wife, Barbara, intervened and began hitting her son over the head with a telephone.

"I was able to get my thumb in his eye and I squeezed like hell ... He eased off, stood up and backed off. Went out the door," Raymond told the court.

The badly injured Raymond told police his son had "crossed the line and he knew it", and he might be feeling suicidal.

"We were always apprehensive around him because of his potential for anger, but that attack just staggered me," Raymond said.

ARREST PLAN

Officers Gregory Simmonds and Deborah Bryant went to the house, where they were told McPeake had owned a crossbow some years ago, was a chronic alcoholic, might be suicidal, and might want to kill his father or brother.

The information was conveyed to the shift that replaced them and, when McPeake's car was spotted at 12.49am, a plan was put in place to get him out of the car and arrest him.

After he refused to leave the car, six officers, including the four unnamed accused, surrounded it. Its windows were smashed, pepper spray was thrown inside, two Tasers were fired, and two dogs were set on McPeake.

All made little impression on him. An officer had to pry his hands from the car, at which point he fell out and was pinned down and arrested.

At that point, he died. Attempts to resuscitate him were fruitless.

"EXCESSIVE" FORCE

Vanderkolk said police were entitled to use "reasonable, necessary and proportionate force", but this had been excessive.

Lawyers for the accused said the officers had been acting on the information they had at hand.

Susan Hughes QC said they did not know McPeake had a medical condition, or that he had consumed a large amount of prescription and non-prescription drugs.

ALREADY DYING?

She told the jury that, by the trial's end, they might conclude that McPeake was already dying when the officers arrived.

She asked the jury to consider what might have occurred if McPeake had started the car and driven out of the car park.

Rachael Adams asked the jurors to put themselves in her client's position on the night. McPeake was capable of serious violence, had used a weapon, may have had a crossbow, was a very large man, and "may be suicidal with nothing to lose".

It was not a situation for "armchair analysis with hindsight", she said.

The trial is expected to last two to three weeks.

 

 - Stuff

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