Law-enforcement agencies join investigation of officer shooting

DRIVE-BY: Local police union offers a $10,000 reward.

January 11, 2010 

Derek Hseih, president of the Anchorage Police Department Employees Association, speaks at a press conference Jan. 11, 2009, surrounded by members of the association. The APDEA is offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of suspects who ambushed APD Officer Jason Allen on Saturday.

FRAN DURNER / ANCHORAGE DAILY NEWS Buy Photo

Police on Monday laid out a dragnet seeking information about the ambush of an Anchorage police officer wounded in a drive-by shooting, and federal and state authorities joined the hunt for the shooters.

Police say the FBI, Alaska State Troopers, the Seattle Police Department and others are now in on the search for the person or people who seriously injured 47-year-old officer Jason Allen in a drive-by shooting in Fairview early Saturday. Allen was hit five times and police say he is likely to remain hospitalized for an extended time.

As the investigation moved into its third day, authorities put out an appeal for general information about the case and kept many details about the investigation under wraps. Among the information being sought was tips about anyone who hates police and has made threats against them in recent days.

Also Monday, the local police union offered a $10,000 reward in the case.

Police say they don't yet know a clear motive for the shooting, though they believe Allen was targeted solely because of his uniform. It's also not known if the shooter and the others in his vehicle are gang members or someone else with a grudge against police.

"Looking at the totality of the things we know, this smacks of a gang-involved drive-by shooting on a police officer. And that, to me, is just highly unusual for Anchorage," said Scott Lofthouse, the Anchorage police gang intelligence officer. "If this does turn out to be gang-related, it is a tremendous escalation of violence, because basically they declared war on cops."

The shooting shocked the community, especially those at the APD. Patrol Sgt. Lee Rohwer said officers are trained to be alert for danger, but such a brazen, unprovoked attack had officers on edge.

"Certainly this is something that we all know is a possibility in our line of work; there's no two ways about that," Rohwer said. "The thing about this one that I guess is different from some of the other ones is that in this case it appears what happened is -- and I'm not involved in the case -- but what appears happened is this guy laid in wait to specifically go execute a police officer.

"Of course, that's pretty concerning for all of society, not just for us."

Since the shooting, some patrol officers have volunteered their time to pair up at night as a safety precaution, police spokesman Lt. Dave Parker said.

REWARD OFFER

The Anchorage Police Department Employees Association said the $10,000 reward offer comes from the police union, the city and other public safety unions. The reward represents the first time in recent memory they have offered a bounty for information leading to the arrest and successful prosecution of criminals.

"This assault is an outrage. It's an attack not only on the officer -- my friend, a member of the Anchorage Police Department -- but also on our community," police union president Sgt. Derek Hsieh said. "We've had other officers assaulted. We feel that his case is different, that this attack on a police officer was directed at him because he was an officer. We feel committed to stopping these attacks."

Investigators say Allen was in uniform and was parked in a marked patrol car when he was ambushed. Allen had been at a home on Medfra Street, between 14th and 15th avenues, for about 45 minutes working a domestic-dispute case.

Just before 2 a.m. Saturday, a dark-colored sedan pulled alongside his patrol car. Police say more than two people were in the vehicle -- described as a late 1980s or early 1990s dark-colored sedan -- but it appeared only one of them opened fire with a handgun without any words exchanged. Police have not released descriptions of the attackers.

Allen was shot five times in the arms and torso. Police say his bulletproof vest stopped some of the rounds.

Allen's injuries were potentially life-threatening, though he has been recovering at an Anchorage hospital. Parker said Allen is still in a lot of pain but he is able to talk.

Police say the shooting doesn't appear connected to the call Allen responded to at the home on Medfra, and the possibility that an outsider with a grudge against him tracked him down is slim. Allen had been on duty only about three hours and he wasn't on his usual patrol turf in the Midtown area, Parker said.

Lofthouse said there have long been rumors elsewhere that gangs target police as part of their initiations. But that is definitely uncommon and he's skeptical that was the case here because, though police have gotten threats, it would represent a huge shift in local gang mentality.

Meantime, officers from across the department are knocking on doors, talking to people on the street and trying to figure out who's responsible.

"We've got thousands of suspects and we're just trying to narrow it down," Lofthouse said. "Because at this point, basically anybody that has any kind of affiliation is a prime suspect."

OUTSIDE HELP

The addition of the other agencies to assist the investigation will help with resources and expertise, Parker said. Seattle police are assisting because of their experience dealing with shootings there on Oct. 31 and Nov. 29 that left five officers dead, he said.

"We don't believe that necessarily there is a specific link between the suspects here that may have committed this crime and those that are in Seattle," Parker said. "However, it's important to keep in mind that when you have similar crimes, often you have similar strategies in the investigation."

FBI spokesman Special Agent Eric Gonzalez said it's not uncommon for federal authorities to get involved in a serious case, even one that might not end up in federal jurisdiction.

"Anytime an officer's targeted like that, absolutely," Gonzalez said. "We are providing assistance, resources and technical assistance, to APD. Whatever they need that we can provide, we will."

The public can contribute to the reward fund and also a fund to help Allen's family with expenses by donating to the Jason Allen Reward Fund or the Jason Allen Family Support Fund at any Key Bank branch, Hsieh said. He said the union is not collecting money any other way and the public should not give money to anyone who solicits it.

Anyone with information about the case is asked to call police at 786-8900 or Crime Stoppers at 561-STOP.


Find James Halpin online at adn.com/contact/jhalpin or call him at 257-4589.

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