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Suspect in day-long Anchorage manhunt has history of police aggression

Jerzy Shedlock
Loren Holmes photo

It took a while but Anchorage police got their man, Thursday.

An alleged shooter who shut down a portion of Alaska’s largest city after firing multiple rounds at an officer then managed to evade a considerable police force including K-9 police dogs, elite SWAT team members, a state helicopter and many regular Anchorage officers.

James Nick, 31, was taken into custody just before 9:30 a.m. Officers used multiple, less-lethal weapons to take Nick into custody.

Police reported a white male in his 20s had fired shots at an officer early Wednesday afternoon in a parking lot near the 200 block of East Dowling in South Anchorage. The officer was not hit.

A large-scale search involving multiple police, police dogs, SWAT members and overhead flights by Alaska State Troopers’ Helo 2 ensued. They searched nearby neighborhoods and a greenbelt for hours, closed Dowling Road, and put Taku Elementary grade-schoolers on lockdown on their first day of fall classes. 

The suspect remained on the run as evening rolled around, and police began to reopen roadways. A description was released, and police solicited help from the public to find the missing shooter. Authorities said they’d be following up on leads.

APD spokesperson Jennifer Castro said police identified the suspect sometime after the initial incident and issued an arrest warrant. After the warrant was issued, police followed leads to an Anchorage neighborhood.

Thursday morning, an Anchorage police SWAT unit following up on spotted a male who matched suspect’s description; he was exiting a green Ford Explorer at an apartment complex across town from Muldoon in the neighborhood of Mountain View.

Officers ran the license plate of the Ford and determined the vehicle had been stolen. APD spokesperson Jennifer Castro wrote in a press release that a SWAT unit assembled, and when the suspect returned to the vehicle, the officers blocked the suspect in with four vehicles.

The SWAT unit fired a 40mm sponge baton round through the rear window of the vehicle then fired a tear gas round through the broken window. At this point, Castro said, Nick began ramming the blockade of police vehicle but he could not push his way out.

No officers were injured as a result of the ramming; Castro could not say whether the officers’ vehicles were badly damaged.

Nick eventually exited the Ford and began to flee on foot. A police dog was released and caught up with the alleged shooter. The K-9 bit Nick, who punched and kicked the dog to escape its grasp. He continued to run through a fenced in area behind the apartment complex, and a SWAT member fired off a foam baton round followed by a pepper round -- both hit the suspect, Castro said.

But Nick continued to run. The police dog again made contact with him at an opening in the fence; his jacket ripped as he struggled to escape. He made it through the opening and was running around the corner of another apartment building when an officer intercepted him. Nick was shot was a Taser and arrested, Castro said.  

The 40mm baton rounds are generally blue, hard foam rounds shot from a riot gun that break apart on impact, spreading their force. The baton rounds are one of at least five less-lethal projectiles the department employs. Other rounds are bean bags and Taser shots.

Police were quick to point out that they used less-than-lethal tactics to apprehend Nick. The Anchorage Police Department announced changes to its use-of-force policy in June after facing criticism from the community over its handling of a series of officer-involved shootings over the last year. Those changes partially influenced the Department’s tactics. But time and planning are to thank for the successful arrest, Castro said.

Nick has a history of aggression with police. He pleaded no contest to resisting or interfering with an officer in March 2003, September 2006, February 2011, and August 2012, according to online court records. He also pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor assaulting an officer charge in April 2012. Other past convictions include stealing a car, violating parole conditions and another misdemeanor assault.

Two months ago, Nick was charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

Currently, police have Nick in custody. According to online court records, he has been charged with first-degree attempted murder, as well as being a felon in possession of a gun. Those charges stem from Wednesday’s shooting. It is likely more charges will be filed for what happened Thursday.

Jerzy Shedlock at jerzy@alaskadispatch.com