Juneau police say man wrongly accused in 'racial incident,' person of interest identified

Jerzy Shedlock

Juneau police continue to search for a suspect they say yelled racial slurs at Alaska Natives during a Saturday morning parade, part of the biennial culture and dance festival Celebration organized by Sealaska. The Juneau Police Department asked the public to submit tips, including pictures and video taken during the parade, to help identify the man who marred the final day of the festival. Numerous bystanders sent in photos, but Juneau police Lt. Kris Sell said the tipsters have the wrong guy.

The police department reported Wednesday it appreciated the public's assistance in locating the suspect, "however, a man photographed at Celebration the day prior to the incident and whose picture has been widely circulated on Facebook and through smartphones" was at work during the incident.

Sell said the man being accused on social media contacted police and told them he'd been at work, which the department confirmed. "The man was very unhappy," she said.

Alaska Dispatch received emails, including pictures, from people hoping to get the word out about who they believed to be the suspect. One sender (who asked to remain anonymous as the initial story about the racial incident has generated a long comment thread about racism and she does not want to be targeted) said she was at the event standing next to the flag bearer who had an American flag snatched from his grasp by the suspect.

She said she and others were sure it was the man police say was at work but admitted they could be wrong.

"I think the police department is doing as much as they can," she said.

The woman, who identified herself as Tlingit, one of three major Alaska Native peoples Sealaska represents, contended the incident was the first she'd seen at Celebration. Racism against Alaska Natives was more of an issue when she was a child, she said, and while it is still a concern, she said Alaskans of every race are more racially tolerant than in the past.

All the photos sent in to the police department are of the wrongly accused man, Sell said. She said some of the pictures were taken from his Facebook page.

Police have found a person of interest in the case but have been unable to locate him.

"We've been searching everywhere," Sell said.

The lieutenant said the key suspect does in fact resemble the man taking the blame. Police reported the assailant was a white man wearing a brightly colored knit hat under the hood of a dark-colored jacket. Sell added Wednesday the suspect is short and stocky.

Sell also said the person of interest has had previous aggressive outbursts around the state's capital city.

Police have retraced his steps. According to Sell, the man kicked over traffic barricades and shoved an elderly woman before grabbing the flag from an Alaska Native veteran, yelling racial slurs and attempting to spit on the flag.

Celebration participants were able to wrestle the flag away from the man before he ran off and subsequently eluded police, who followed him on bicycles and in a patrol car.

If found, the man could be charged with fourth-degree assault, disorderly conduct or harassment, all misdemeanors.

Reach Jerzy Shedlock at jerzy@alaskadispatch.com.