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Alaska village officer shot while confronting bootlegger in Buckland

Jerzy Shedlock

A village police officer was shot Friday morning after confronting a resident attempting to import alcohol to Buckland, a local-option community in Northwestern Alaska, Alaska State Troopers say. Residents apprehended the suspect before troopers from a nearby post made it to the village.

At 3 a.m., troopers from the nearby regional hub community of Kotzebue received reports that 48-year-old officer Lorin B. Geary had been shot. Geary reportedly had been tipped off that 40-year-old Buckland resident Gary A. Ballot was headed to the village by boat with alcohol.

Buckland is a predominantly Iñupiat Eskimo village of 416 located on the west bank of the river of the same name, about 75 miles southeast of Kotzebue. In 1982, Buckland voted to make itself a local-option community and ban the importation of alcohol. State law allows communities to restrict alcohol sales through local election.

Kotzebue, a much larger community and the closest thing to an urban center near Buckland, is a “damp” village; all alcohol coming through Kotzebue has to go through the city-owned liquor store and distribution center.

Geary went to the beach and located Ballot’s boat. Troopers say Ballot got out of the boat and shot the officer.

The beach is located along the shore the village, and locals use it to dock their boats, troopers’ spokesperson Megan Peters said.

Authorities are not providing details about what lead up to the shooting. According to troopers, Ballot has been charged with attempted murder of a village police officer and alcohol importation.

Geary was taken to a local clinic before being medevaced to an Anchorage hospital.

Troopers did not have an update on the officer’s condition other than to say that he’s receiving treatment in Anchorage, Peters said. “We were under the impression that his life was not in jeopardy,” she said. Anchorage's Alaska Native Medical Center reported Geary was in surgery shortly after 3 p.m.

Several concerned villagers heard what happened and tried to help. They took Ballot’s firearm away from him and took him into custody. During the arrest of the alleged bootlegger, he was injured. An Alaska Department of Public Safety aircraft flew Ballot to Kotzebue for treatment.

Peters said the troopers did not receive information about the extent of Ballot’s injuries.

Kotzebue troopers and a Western Alaska Alcohol and Narcotics Team (WAANT) investigator, officials tasked with stopping or slowing down the flood of booze reaching villages with alcohol bans, were dispatched to Buckland. The state’s Bureau of Investigation also is sending Anchorage-based investigators to Buckland. Witnesses will be questioned, troopers say.

Peters could not say how much alcohol Ballot was trying to bring into the village.

Police busted Ballot back in 1991 for attempted importation. He pleaded no contest to the charge; the trial took place in Kotzebue, according to online court records.

The suspect also has multiple other charges for which he pleaded no contest, including first-degree burglary and first-degree trespass in 1993 and 1998, according to the records.

Alaska's criminal justice professionals recognize alcohol as the primary substance of abuse in the state, according to troopers' annual drug report. More than 100 communities have voted in favor of prohibiting alcohol in some manner. But booze remains legal in many areas, so illegal bootlegging activities continue to affect local-option communities. Alcohol is frequently transported to villages by local air carriers, private aircraft, boats, snowmachines and express mailing services.

Contact Jerzy Shedlock at jerzy(at)alaskadispatch.com