Our view: Shooting inquiry

Shooting inquiry

Residents need answers about Mountain View case

Anchorage residents need to know the answer to a simple question: Was the shooting of Shane Tasi by an Anchorage police officer in Mountain View justified?

According to Anchorage police, the officer shot and killed Tasi when Tasi, armed with some sort of stick or board, threatened and moved toward the officer and ignored demands that he stop.

Several officers had responded to calls about a disturbance, and Tasi appeared to have been in a dispute over a neighbor's dog, or possibly with some local teenagers. Whatever the reason, Tasi's death was a tragedy.

We don't know yet if the shooting was justified. We do know that hard questions about it are justified. Was the officer's life or the lives of anyone else in peril? Why was deadly force necessary when there were several presumably armed officers present and Tasi was armed only with a stick? Police said the officer who shot Tasi was not equipped with a Taser, which delivers a short-duration, high-voltage jolt to stop an attacker without gunfire. APD doesn't have enough Tasers to equip every officer. Why not? Did any of the other officers present have a Taser? Did they have time to use it?

Police spokesman Lt. Dave Parker said Tuesday said he couldn't say much about the ongoing investigation, but he did caution against jumping to conclusions, because a stick can be a deadly weapon, and the encounter between Tasi and the officer happened fast, leaving little time for the officer to make his decision.

He also noted that while APD has 116 Tasers deployed in the field, that's still not enough to equip every patrol officer, as the Alaska State Troopers are equipped now.

Parker said police are doing a thorough homicide investigation, gathering evidence, talking to witnesses and sharing what they learn with the special prosecutions office in the state Department of Law.

Parker said that the state district attorney's office, not the police, will decide if the officer acted legally. If prosecutors decide he acted legally, the officer will still face an APD internal affairs investigation to determine if he acted according to police policies and procedures. If he didn't, even without a criminal charge he would face what Parker called "a distinct probability" of firing.

"We are constantly reinforcing ... that we are held to a higher standard," Parker said. By way of example, he said that a private citizen has wider latitude in using deadly force against a burglar breaking into his home than does a police officer dealing with a burglary in progress.

Anchorage residents need to know that their police rigorously abide by those higher standards, especially when it comes to the use of deadly force.

BOTTOM LINE: Investigation of Mountain View shooting must be thorough and fearless.