From Kyle Hopkins in Nome –
A bootlegger who shot a village police officer in Buckland – and was then tackled by the town mayor -- pleaded guilty here today to attempted murder.
Gary Ballot, 40, admitted in a plea deal to the July 26 shooting on the gravel banks of Buckland River in Northwest Alaska. He faces 20 to 30 years in prison under the agreement.
Assistant Attorney General Gustaf Olson said he hopes to use the case to send a message that attacks on Bush police, who are generally unarmed, will lead to long prison sentences. “This is a law enforcement officer who was trying to do the right thing in his community, uphold the local option,” Olson said.
Ballot also pleaded guilty to felony bootlegging and third-degree assault.
The trouble began when he ferried liquor, wine and beer from Kotzebue to a family camp about 15 miles outside of Buckland. The booze was supposed to be for a wedding, according to a sworn trooper statement filed in court.
Ballot dropped off firewood but kept the alcohol, hauling it to Buckland where someone tipped Mayor Tim Gavin that the skiff might be arriving with liquor, according to troopers.
Buckland, population 453, has banned importation and possession of alcohol since 1982.
The village council authorized a warrantless search of the boat, Gavin told troopers. Two village police officers and a Village Public Safety Officer, none of whom are armed, met Ballot and his passengers at the riverbank.
Ballot refused to step off the boat and began rummaging through the skiff, Geary told troopers. Witnesses said they saw Ballot pull out a .25-06 rifle and rack a round into the chamber.
Village Police Officer Lorin Geary told Ballot he was going to arrest him and seize the alcohol, the officer told troopers. Ballot raised the rifle. Thinking Ballot was going to kill him, Geary jumped in the boat, he said. Before he could grab the gun, Ballot shot him.
Witnesses saw a cloud of feathers puff from Geary’s down jacket and the two men struggled for control of the boat, according to the affidavit.
Ballot ran toward his home, a bottle of R&R whiskey in his hand, but was tackled by Gavin and one of Gavin’s neighbors, the mayor told troopers.
Ballot’s son heard the commotion from his nearby home, the boy told troopers. He recognized his father’s voice and went outside.
Ballot said to his son, “I’m going to jail, I shot a cop,” according to the affidavit.
Troopers later found Coors Light packed in a Chiquita bananas box unloaded from the boat and Budweiser hidden in box marked Mattel toys, the affidavit says. All told, investigators seized the equivalent of 10 bottles of hard liquor, 32 six packs of beer and 7 bottles of wine.
Ballot appeared in court today in yellow prison clothes, saying little during the hearing. None of his victims, including Geary, testified. Reached on his cell phone, Gavin, the village mayor, declined to comment on the case.
Superior Court Judge Paul Roetman has not yet accepted the plea deal, meaning he could reject the agreement for a 20 to 30 year sentence. The judge told Ballot today that he wants to hear more about the case in a pre-sentencing report due by the end of the year.
“I may decide it’s too harsh. I may decide it’s too lenient,” Roetman said.
Geary underwent eight hours of surgery following the shooting and has since returned to Buckland, according to prosecutors.