Police should not have deployed two dogs on wanted man in car says top cop
Setting two police dogs on to a man sitting in his stationary car was inappropriate, according to the country's top police dog officer.
The evidence from the Police national coordinator for police dogs, Inspector Todd Southall, was provided in the trial of four officers charged with assaulting Gregory McPeake with a weapon shortly before he died while being arrested.
The officers, whose names are suppressed, are on trial in Napier District Court accused of assaulting McPeake, 53, in the early hours of March 13 last year. The Crown claims they used excessive force by using Tasers and dogs. The defence argues they acted appropriately given the information they had at the time. There is no suggestion they caused his death.
McPeake had driven from New Plymouth to his parents' home in Hastings, where he used a baton-like weapon to seriously injure his 76-year-old father, Ray.
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Hours later he was found sitting in his car at a car park in the Napier suburb of Westshore.
Police knew McPeake was a large man who may be drunk and violent, may be armed with a crossbow and could be suicidal.
McPeake, who weighed 179kg,refused to get out of his car as requested multiple times.
Officers smashed his car's windows and used pepper spray, but this had little effect. They then used two dogs and two Tasers but these failed to get him out of the car. Eventually he was manhandled out of the driver's seat. He was handcuffed and arrested but died a short time later.
Southall told the court police were not trained to deploy dogs into vehicles due to the confined space, the fact the offender could attack the dog, or drive away, or may have another dog in the vehicle.
"Deploying two dogs into the vehicle in this situation was inappropriate," Southall said, after being shown footage of the incident taken on Taser camera.
"The threat [from McPeake] was at most, in my opinion, actively resisting. But that was it. Opening the door and allowing the dog to bite was not necessary... There were other options," he said.
"The option for both guys would have been for both guys to have just hold. The threat Mr McPeake posed to the guys was able to be controlled... when they backed away the threat was negligible".
He said the best option would have beennot to deploy the dog.
Just because pepper spray and Tasers had not worked it did not mean dogs should be deployed, he said.
"We always need to keep reassessing the situation as it's unfolding and I don't think that was done in this situation," he said.
Once the keys had been removed from McPeake the threat of assault or GBH was gone and the correct option was to "hold".
"You are not going to get a 179kg person out of a car with a 30kg dog. It's not going to happen," Southall said.
He said there appeared to be no plan in the event McPeake refused to get out of the car.
There was very little communication or coordination after the car's windows were smashed and "it appeared to be more individualistic rather than communicated. It was heated, yes, but it was possible to communicate about other options," he said.
The trial, before Judge Phillip Cooper, began last Tuesday and was expected to end in coming days.