With officers cleared, police offer explanation for fatal February shooting (with video)

Casey Grove
Marc Lester

Two Anchorage police officers shot and killed a man in a stolen pickup Feb. 19 after he rammed patrol cars, then sped toward police in reverse, missing one officer by inches.

Police offered that explanation of the death of 25-year-old Carl Bowie Tuesday during a presentation aimed at reconstructing why officers Roger Billiet and Alan Rydberg fired at Bowie. The state Office of Special Prosecutions and Appeals, which investigates officer-involved shootings, announced earlier Tuesday its review found no criminal wrongdoing on the part of the officers.

Police also released a video of the final moments of Bowie's life taken from a dashboard-mounted camera in an officer's car. The video shows the pickup, driven by Bowie with a female passenger beside him, in a dramatic pursuit involving police in a residential neighborhood off of Lake Otis Parkway, south of Tudor Road.

Bowie's death was the first of two fatal officer-involved shootings in Anchorage so far in 2013.

An internal review to see if the officers followed department policy is ongoing. But because there will be no criminal charges, the case is now considered closed, Police Chief Mark Mew said.

"So that frees us up to discuss many of the details we think will be of interest to the public," Mew said.

According to Detective Mark Huelskoetter, who conducted the investigation while working with a state prosecutor, this is the police version of the Feb. 19 shooting:

It was about 10:15 a.m. when an off-duty police dispatcher noticed a man peering into vehicles parked at the Dimond Center. She took several photos of the man -- seen in a slide show Huelskoetter showed to reporters Tuesday -- wearing a dark, hooded sweatshirt and a beanie with ear flaps. The man, later identified as Bowie, seemed to notice her, then hopped into a green Ford F-150 and drove away. The woman called fellow dispatchers and gave them the pickup's license plate number. The number matched a Ford stolen two hours earlier after the owner left it running and locked in a driveway near Alamosa Drive and 88th Avenue.

Roughly 20 minutes after the dispatcher's report, a patrol officer spotted the pickup driving north on Lake Otis Parkway. She can be heard in a recording of radio traffic, also released by police Tuesday along with the video, saying she is going to "light him up," meaning she is turning on her car's flashing lights in an attempt to stop the pickup. Bowie refused to stop and continued through South Anchorage, making several turns until he was heading north again on Lake Otis.

As the pickup continued north, Rydberg drove to the intersection of Lake Otis and 50th Avenue, where he put down a spike strip in an effort to slash the pickup's tires and stop the vehicle. But Bowie turned left onto Waldron Drive. An officer is heard in the radio transmission saying the pickup was driving 25 to 30 mph.

Bowie eventually drove down a dead-end street, Windflower Circle, and turned around. His first collision -- called an "11-23" -- with a patrol cruiser came moments later.

"We've kind of got this face-off going," Officer Julnudda Jackson is heard saying in the recorded radio traffic. "He just 11-23'd me."

The pickup nearly hit another patrol car, then rounded a corner at Windflower Street and 53rd Avenue. The dashboard camera in Rydberg's car shows the pickup glance off the rear of a patrol car, hit Rydberg's car head on, and careen out of the video frame. According to Huelskoetter, who interviewed the officers involved in the pursuit and shooting, the pickup became stuck in a snowbank on 53rd. It was just before 10:45 a.m.

"At that point, Officer Rydberg exited his vehicle and began giving commands to the driver," Huelskoetter said. "He observed that there were other officers approaching the rear of the vehicle on foot. That vehicle was suddenly able to gain traction in reverse, heading toward officers approaching from behind."

Rydberg fired at Bowie twice. Billiet, who stepped out of the way of the pickup just in time, fired five shots. The pickup continued in reverse until crashing into a set of mailboxes and another snowbank parallel to a driveway. Officers pulled out Bowie's uninjured female passenger -- his girlfriend, his family said -- and put her in a patrol car. An attempt to resuscitate Bowie was unsuccessful.

Huelskoetter said a medical examiner found that three of the shots hit Bowie and that a bullet that pierced Bowie's aorta caused his death. Inside the pickup, officers found stolen items, including a laptop computer, a digital music player and a breast pump.

Tudor Elementary sits just behind the shooting scene and it was clear from the beginning that there was a passenger in the pickup, but the officers had no time to discuss the possibility of hitting bystanders, including children or Bowie's girlfriend, Mew said.

"This is a dynamic event, and it's unfolding quickly. And (the officers) do have to make judgements. They have to think about as many things as they can possibly think of," Mew said. "But sometimes you don't get much time."

Bowie's intent was in putting the pickup in reverse is unknown, Huelskoetter said. Police interviewed the girlfriend, but Huelskoetter said he would not release specific details about what she said.

"She didn't have control over the situation," he said. "Essentially, (she said) he didn't want to stop for the police."

Bowie's family has described him as having past problems with drug addiction. Huelskoetter said toxicology tests as part of the autopsy found no signs that he had been under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the shooting, only trace amounts of marijuana in his system from past use.

According to his obituary from his family, Bowie had two children: an 8-year-old daughter and a 2-year-old son.

With the case closed, the police department's Internal Affairs Unit will now look at the officers' actions to see if they followed department procedure, Mew said. The results of such investigations are not made public. Mew declined to comment on whether their actions, at least initially, appeared to follow protocol or not.

"I'm not going to jump the gun on very deliberative and very deliberate process," Mew said.

Mew said such incidents, specifically situations in which a suspect drives at officers, seem to be happening more often in recent years. A University of Alaska Anchorage Justice Center study released this year showed a greater willingness among people contacted by police to assault officers, Mew said. Why that is, the chief said he did not know. Officials with Anchorage police, the Alaska State Troopers and FBI have plans to talk about the "cause and effect" of officer-involved shootings, he said.

"It's a trend that's gotten our attention," Mew said. "It's unusual, and so we're going to have to think about that."


Reach Casey Grove at casey.grove@adn.com or 257-4589.