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Anchorage policemen cleared in fatal February shooting of civilian

Suzanna CaldwellAlaska Dispatch News
Anchorage Police chief Mark Mew discussing an officer involved shooting at a press conference on April 16, 2013. The Anchorage Police Department has seen a rash of officer involved shootings in the past few years, and the department is working with other law enforcement to find a solution. Loren Holmes photo

Anchorage Police on Tuesday released new details in the in the February shooting death of an Anchorage man after the officers involved were cleared of all charges.

The Anchorage Police Department said the state Office of Special Prosecutions and Appeals ruled that the use of force resulting in the death of Carl Bowie III was within lawful parameters.

The two officers -- Senior Patrol Officer Roger Billiet and Senior Patrol Officer Alan Rydberg -- will have no charges filed against them. Both are veterans of the force; Rydberg has been with APD 13 years, Billiet 11.

Bowie, 27, was shot by police Feb. 19 while trying to flee with an allegedly stolen vehicle, ramming several police cruisers in the process.

Bowie's death was the first officer-involved shooting of 2013. So far this year, Anchorage police officers have been involved in two other shootings -- one of which proved fatal -- for a total of three just four months into 2013.

With video of the incident available thanks to a camera inside the patrol car, police walked through the details of the incident Tuesday, almost two months after the shooting occurred.

'He wouldn't stop'

While the incident went down quickly -- the pursuit lasted only eight minutes -- its beginnings went back to the early morning hours of Feb. 19. 

According to police, at 8:15 a.m. a green 2002 Ford F-150 with small flame decals on the back was reported missing in South Anchorage.  Two hours later, just after 10 a.m., an off-duty officer reported a suspicious person trolling cars in the Dimond Center parking lot. The off-duty officer took several photos of the truck and the man with her cell phone and sent them to police. 

At 10:36 a.m., another officer spotted Bowie driving the green truck after he ran a red light at 88th Avenue and Lake Otis Parkway.

Officers then began a chase down Lake Otis parkway where Bowie -- with a female passenger also in the truck -- navigated around officers, avoiding spike strips before driving into a neighborhood off of Waldron Drive. There, officers followed Bowie through the neighborhood and down a dead-end where, according to the dispatch recordings, Bowie turned the truck around and engaged in a “face-off” with an officer in pursuit. Bowie rammed through, striking the officer's patrol car -- a third-degree felony assault, before hitting two more police vehicles, losing control and hitting a snow bank.

At that point, officers believed Bowie's truck had stuck in a snowbank, and several got out of their patrol cars -- weapons drawn -- to confront him.

But then Bowie placed the car in reverse and rapidly drove back toward several officers. Rydberg fired first as Billiet leapt out of the way to miss the truck and quickly fired five rounds at Bowie. The truck then swerves in reverse uncontrollably, nearly missing a nearby house before coming to a stop. 

Bowie was hit three times, one of which proved fatal according to the declination letter provided by OSPA outing the series of events. When officers searched the truck they also found a MacBook laptop that was reported stolen, an iPod and a breast pump.

Anchorage Police Det. Mark Huelskoetter said the officers fired in an attempt to protect others from any danger. By the time Bowie was shot, he had hit three officers and racked up three counts of third degree felony assault for hitting the officers.

In the declination letter, assistant attorney general Gregg Olson writes that the passenger of the vehicle had been suffering from heroin withdrawal and had asked Bowie to pick her up that morning to purchase more heroin. The woman told police that while he saw the police lights, “he wouldn't stop” because he didn't want to go back to jail.

At the time of the incident, Bowie had been on parole and had “walked away from supervision” according to the state Department of Corrections.

According to public records, Bowie had numerous law encounters since 2006, including charges of shoplifting and leaving the scene of an accident. Bowie pled guilty to charges of felony theft of a vehicle in 2010. 

Officer assaults on the rise?

Bowie was the first Anchorage man to be killed by police in 2013. Earlier this month, police also shot and killed 27-year-old Detlef Wulf in the parking lot of an Anchorage grocery store after Wulf reportedly pointed a semi-automatic handgun at officers. The OSPA investigation into that incident is ongoing.

Anchorage Police Chief Mark Mew said that the recent increase on assaults on police officers is unusual. A study from the University of Alaska Anchorage showed that assaults on officers is up in recent years, though only slightly. Mew noted that study -- released last week at the same time Mew was holding a press conference on another officer involved shooting -- didn't take into account 2012, a year notable for five Anchorage police officer-involved shootings that resulted in two deaths. 

Mew said he had made contact with members of the Alaska State Troopers and FBI in an attempt to go over the cases to see what could be done to prevent more officer-involved shootings.

“What's the difference in the recipe for the shooting? What ingredient was missing in those cases where deadly force ended up not being used by the officers?” Mew said. “We want to dig into that and try to find out what -- if anything -- society is doing differently and if there's anything we can do different.”

Mew hopes to meet with representatives from those agencies in the coming days.

Contact Suzanna Caldwell at suzanna(at)alaskadispatch.com

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