Alaska law enforcement involved in 7 shootings this year

Associated PressJuly 5, 2012 

The shooting outside Wasilla involving an Alaska State Trooper is at least the seventh shooting involving police agencies around the state this year, including two Anchorage fatalities that prompted a local group to organize a rally set to take place Saturday.

Troopers have been involved in at least three officer-related shootings this year. They include a June 17 standoff in Kotzebue where two troopers were wounded after the suspect, Arvid Nelson Jr., shot at them as they approached his vehicle, according to troopers.

Troopers and a Kotzebue police sergeant returned fire. A negotiator was later brought in, but couldn't make contact with Nelson. Authorities later approached the vehicle and said Nelson apparently died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Anchorage police have been involved in two fatal shootings and one injury shooting.

The latest Anchorage police shooting occurred Sunday evening. Police fatally shot a 59-year-old man, Harry Smith, after he threatened to kill others in a South Anchorage house and then himself, and pointed an air gun designed to look like a pistol. Harry Smith was taken to a hospital in critical condition and was pronounced dead later that night.

Police on Thursday identified the two officers involved as Michael Jones and Bryan Heinz. Per department policy, they were placed on administrative leave for three days.

Lt. Dave Parker said the case is still under investigation. Another officer involved in the other fatal Anchorage shooting was found to use justifiable force. The state Office of Special Prosecutions and Appeals found that charges against Officer Boaz Gionson were not warranted in the shooting that killed Shane Tasi on June 9.

Police said Gionson fired his weapon after the 26-year-old Tasi approached him aggressively with a stick and refused repeated commands to put it down.

In light of the two deadly shootings, a local group was organizing a rally Saturday to raise the police department's awareness "for better protocols on shooting to disarm versus shooting to kill," according to a flyer. The event is being planned by the Polynesian Community Center, which did not immediately respond to an email request for comment Thursday.

Parker said the overriding goal is to stop a suspect, not to shoot to kill. He said police actions are set by the suspects themselves.

"We basically don't control situations that require the application of deadly force," Parker said. "Those situations are controlled by the people who are acting out."

As for the perceived spike in police-involved shootings, Parker said the number is not unusually high. Some years there are no police involved shootings, while there might be several in other years.

"The fact that we had two situations within a month, that is very unusual," Parker said. "You can't write it off to anything but that's just the way the chips fall."

State troopers did not immediately return a call seeking comment on the trooper-involved shootings this year.

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