The Ketchikan police chief accused of placing a man in a chokehold at a local restaurant while off-duty in September is now on leave as the city conducts an investigation into the incident.
Chief Jeffrey Walls “has been placed on paid administrative leave pending an internal review,” acting Ketchikan city manager Lacey Simpson wrote in an email Thursday. The city has appointed Deputy Chief Eric Mattson to serve as acting chief for the duration of the investigation.
“As this is a personnel matter, there is no further comment,” Simpson wrote.
She did not immediately respond to questions asking exactly when Walls was placed on leave or which city department or official is conducting the investigation.
Walls was indicted by a Ketchikan grand jury last week on four charges of assault and two charges of reckless endangerment. He entered a not guilty plea to all the charges. His attorney at a hearing last week called the indictment “false and defamatory allegations.”
The assault at the center of the charges occurred the evening of Sept. 10 as Walls and his wife ate dinner at the bar at the Salmon Falls Resort.
The other man involved, described as a 36-year-old Washington state resident, was arrested at the time on misdemeanor charges of fourth-degree assault, second-degree harassment and for being drunk on a licensed premise. Those charges were dismissed in October.
The Daily News is not identifying the man involved in the encounter because he is not facing any charges related to the incident.
The men didn’t know each other, according to court documents filed in the case.
Initially, the man approached Walls and bumped his stool, pushing him into the bar, but the two men separated without incident, according to an informational statement filed with last week’s indictment. In a second encounter about 90 minutes later, the man bumped Walls’ wife and continued to the bathroom.
Walls ran after him, pushed his head into a wall made of rock or stone, and then placed the man in a chokehold, according to the statement. Witnesses told Alaska State Troopers it took multiple people roughly 30 seconds to pull Walls away from the man.
The man was bleeding from his head when troopers arrived at the restaurant, and he received stitches and medical care for a laceration on his forehead, according to the indictment.
Walls’ attorney in an interview last week said his client thought the man was intentionally assaulting his wife but did not choke him and instead was trying to detain him. The man in September told authorities he didn’t mean to bump Walls’ wife but tripped while trying to stare at Walls.
Walls was hired in December 2021 to become the police chief. He worked at the New Orleans Police Department for 24 years and most recently was the commander of a high-profile patrol district that included the French Quarter and Central Business District.
It wasn’t clear how long the city’s internal investigation into the September incident will take.
The Ketchikan City Council voted 5-2 to offer the chief’s job to Walls at a $132,000 salary in December 2021, according to a report by KRBD community radio.
A Ketchikan judge last week released Walls on his own recognizance, so he isn’t jailed and didn’t have to pay bail. Judge Katherine Lybrand said last week the court is required to set the least restrictive conditions necessary to ensure that a defendant appears for hearings, according to prior reports.
The next court hearing in the case is scheduled for Feb. 7.