Foam-tipped rounds used to subdue shooting suspect

Lisa Demer
Anchorage Police have closed Dowling Road as they search for a shooting suspect on Wednesday, August 21, 2013. The trooper's helicopter searches a nearby wooded area.
Bill Roth
Anchorage Police have closed Dowling Road as they search for a shooting suspect on Wednesday, August 21, 2013. The trooper's helicopter landed on the roadway during the search.
Bill Roth
Anchorage Police have closed Dowling Road as they search for a shooting suspect on Wednesday, August 21, 2013.
Bill Roth

Anchorage police say they used almost their whole arsenal of "less-lethal tactics" Thursday morning -- including tear gas, foam-tipped rounds and a Taser -- to catch the man suspected of firing at an officer Wednesday.

James John Nick, 31, was taken into police custody soon after 9:40 a.m. in Mountain View, just north of Peterkin Avenue near Tarwater Avenue, police said.

Police said he's the man who fired at an officer just after 12:30 p.m. Wednesday outside a duplex in the 200 block of Dowling Road, setting off a huge manhunt, bringing out the trooper helicopter, elevating security at five schools, and closing off Dowling and nearby streets for hours. For nearly a day, the suspect eluded authorities.

Now Nick is charged with attempted first-degree murder and third-degree weapons misconduct for, police say, being a felon in possession of a firearm. He may face additional charges for Thursday's events, a police spokeswoman said.

Nick has a lengthy criminal history starting with alcohol offenses as a teenager and continuing to this June when he was charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor, court records show. His background includes convictions for resisting arrest, assault on a police officer, escape, felony assault, felony drunken driving, driving without a license, and attempted vehicle theft, the records show.

Over the course of Wednesday night and into the morning, investigators were able to figure out who their suspect was, obtain an arrest warrant and trace him to Mountain View, said police spokeswoman Jennifer Castro. About a dozen officers were involved in capturing the suspect, she said.

"SWAT and vice worked it all night long," Anchorage Police Chief Mark Mew said in an interview. "We had the warrant in hand. We knew who it was. We knew what vehicle we were looking for. We know the places that he frequented."

A few minutes before 9:30 a.m. Thursday, the police Special Weapons And Tactics team assembled in Mountain View. An officer saw a man who matched the suspect's description getting out of a green Ford Explorer at an apartment complex in the 3100 block of Peterkin Avenue, police said.

That wasn't the vehicle police were looking for, Mew said. They ran the license plate number and discovered the SUV was stolen, police said.

When the man got back into the vehicle, officers used four of their vehicles to pin in the Explorer, Castro said. One officer fired a foam-tipped 40mm round from a launching device, breaking the Explorer's rear window. The officer then launched four founds of tear gas into the SUV, Castro said. Police also tossed a small but loud stun grenade called a "flash-bang."

The man, whom police later identified as Nick, still refused to get out of the SUV and rammed the police vehicles, she said. But he couldn't push through.

"The pinning was nice and tight," Castro said. "He can't take it anymore, essentially, with the gas. So he gets out of the car and flees."

Police had dogs at the ready and loosed one, Aerie, to give chase.

The man ran along a fence outside an apartment building heading toward an opening.

"About halfway there, a dog gets him. He starts punching on the dog," Castro said. The dog gripped him, probably on the leg, but the man was able to free himself. The same officer who shot out the back windshield then fired a foam-tipped round at the suspect, which can leave a big welt, and followed up with a round of pepper spray that exploded on the suspect, the spokeswoman said.

But the man still kept going, Castro said. He made it through an opening in the fence. The dog again got hold. The suspect took off his jacket to get the dog off him.

"At that point, he gets Tased and apprehended by police," she said. Aerie wasn't hurt.

As of Thursday evening, Nick was in the Anchorage jail.

The investigation is continuing, Castro said. Police haven't named any of the officers involved and don't plan to, she said.

Police used about every one of their less-lethal tactics, which have been getting more refined over the years, Mew said. For instance, police who are trying to get an unruly suspect to comply now use foam-tipped rather than hard-tipped rounds because they don't cause as many injuries.

"We were ready for him this morning," Mew said.

The Dowling duplex, where Nick was confronted Wednesday, already was being watched by police. Stolen vehicles had been found behind the dwelling, near the end of Cordova Street, Castro said. Nick is suspected of having a connection to the activity there, Mew said.

"The officers have been paying attention to that corner. They've been paying attention to that building. There's a lot of activity coming and going. Several patrol officers have kind of made a project out of that place," Mew said.

Reach Lisa Demer at or 257-4390.


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