Peter Buzzard never saw the punch coming.
The man appeared to have calmed down after police arrived and Peter, a senior constable with 40 years’ police experience, stood and waited for his partner to cross the street before he would have a quiet chat with the man.
The man – later identified as Matei Peti – wasn’t calm though, and he wasn’t planning on having a quiet chat. He had been assaulting a woman in broad daylight, near the Broads playing field on Vanguard St, before the police arrived and he wasn’t prepared to stop.
Suddenly, he leapt up and landed a crushing punch to the face of Peter. The blow was so forceful it fractured his jaw in three places, knocked in several teeth and left Peter unconscious on the ground.
His partner rushed to his rescue and pepper-sprayed Peti, before he ran off and was later arrested.
Peter was rushed to Nelson Hospital where he underwent emergency work to his teeth and had around 60 stitches put in his face. In his 40 year policing career across New Zealand and Australia, it was the first time Peter had been the victim of such an attack.
Nelson Bays area commander Steve Greally visited Peter that night in hospital. What he found wasn’t what he expected. He found a man with not an ounce of anger or bitterness. He found a man who – considering the circumstances – was quite cheerful.
Steve’s concern gave way to relief that one of his men was ok.
For Peter’s wife Debby though, concern was consuming her. A nurse of several decades, Debby was at home and had just woken after her nightshift at Nelson Hospital when Peter’s policing partner arrived at the door to tell her what had happened.
“I just rushed to the hospital in what I was wearing. It was horrible, really hard to see him like that.”
As Peter spent the next few months recovering from the attack, the pressure went on Debby. She was now caring for her husband while still working full time, and the whole time fearful of what lay ahead.
“The weeks after the attack were really hard and I always worry about him now. I didn’t worry before the attack, unless he went out with the Armed Offenders Squad late at night,” says Debby.
Peter says the impact of the attack on his friends and family was immense and something that police underestimated at the time. All efforts were on Peter and making sure he was dealing with the attack.
But Debby was feeling the effects worse than Peter, and Steve says that has been a big learning curve with this incident.
“We’ve learnt a lot. Something like this affects more than just the officer because the families are the support networks for our officers, so something like this really impacts on them and that’s something we really need to look at in the future.”
Debby says she is angry that someone was able to come into their lives and cause such disruption. “It does make me angry. Initially I was thinking ‘well, he doesn’t have a very big history so let’s give him a break’. But as time goes on, and the effects continue, it’s like, ‘hmmm, maybe he should do a little bit of time’.”
Peti, aged 23, was sentenced in October to 23 months in jail, but he has never apologised for the attack. Peter says he did receive plenty of support from the community after the incident, though. “We had letters and cards dropped off and plenty of people offering their support, which was really nice. I even had letters from people I’d arrested in the past.”
Peter started back at work a few months after the attack but was only on light duties in the office. He suffered headaches and fatigue for months after, and is still not 100 per cent. He holds no bitterness, though.
“Angry over the whole thing? No. Because that takes away from me being able to move forward. Anger lessens who you are as a person and what does it achieve? It impacts on Debby again and impacts on my work. It’s not to say I wasn’t upset with it but I’m not prepared to let it take away from my life.
“I’ve been in this town 27 years and this is a brilliant place to live and the people here are good people, there’s just a few rat bags and we mustn’t lose sight of that,” he says.
Steve says attacks on police officers are not tolerated and they never will be. “We’re the last frontier, the last line of defence for good people in our community. We represent that, to have a crack at that and think you can get away with it, that doesn’t wash. We’ll always treat assaults of police with the response they deserve, it’s a disgusting thing to do to a New Zealand police officer.”