A 42-year-old man shot and killed a village public safety officer Tuesday in Manokotak, a Southwest Alaska village of 440 people not far from Dillingham.
Alaska State Troopers allege Manokotak resident Leroy B. Dick, Jr., shot and killed 54-year-old officer Thomas O. Madole. Troopers reported learning about the shooting at 5 p.m. Four troopers flew into the village within an hour, said troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters.
After arriving, troopers found Madole's body outside of a Manokotak home, dead of what Peters called an "apparent gunshot wound." Troopers found and arrested Dick, Jr., near the officer's body. Peters would not comment on what occurred between Dick, Jr., and troopers.
It wasn't immediately clear whether the suspect turned himself in or admitted to the shooting. "It's certainly a major tragedy for law enforcement," Peters said.
Originally from Missouri
Madole was one of two village officers based in Manokotak and had been assigned to the community since August 2011. The second officer was away attending training.
Village public safety officers are unarmed peace officers employed by Native nonprofit corporations with state funding. Money from the state is passed through to the nonprofits for the officers' salaries and benefits, but the nonprofit organizations decide who to hire and write the paychecks. Bristol Bay Native Corporation hired Madole, according to Manokotak's city administrator.
Madole was originally from Missouri, but he had lived in Alaska more than a decade. He moved to the village when got the job, Peters said. The officer was immediately accepted as part of the village, said Nancy George, Manokotak city administrator. He was known among the village children and elderly, helping both whenever they asked, she said.
"All of us knew him," George said. "We won't have another (VPSO) like him. No one will replace Tom."
George recalled a village council meeting during which Madole said he had been offered the same position in another village. He turned it down, she said, because of a "higher calling in Manokotak." Before coming to the Southwest Alaska village, Madole served as a pastor at the Assembly of God in Bethel, a community 400 miles west of Anchorage, Alaska's largest city, but just 165 miles from Manokotak.
'Got along with everybody'
Mayor Moses Toyakuk said Manokotak hadn't had a village officer for nearly two years before Madole arrived. Others had applied but opted against moving to Manokotak, he said.
"Tom was one of the better men I worked with in the village," Toyakuk said. "I was really shocked to hear about his death. He got along with everybody. I don't know why this incident happened."
Alaska's immense size and lack of a statewide road system makes it a difficult place to patrol. When trouble erupts in one of the hundreds of remote villages accessible only by plane or boat, local leaders can do little but call for help from the closest city with a troopers post.
VPSOs often work in the village they grew up in and may be faced with arresting family members, friends, neighbors or former classmates. They are generally on call 24 hours per day, work weekends and holidays, all without backup or anyone to relieve them when they need a break.
Investigators on the scene
The suspect, Dick, Jr., is being held at the Dillingham jail awaiting arraignment. He could face charges of first-degree murder.
According to court records, Dick, Jr., pleaded no contest to fourth-degree assault charges in 1996 and 1998. He also pleaded no contest to a game violation in 2004, but he had avoided run-ins with the law since then. Toyakuk and George said Dick, Jr., had mental health problems.
Investigators with the Alaska Bureau of Investigation and troopers are in Manokotak, examining the scene and interviewing residents, Peters said.
Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at jerzy(at)alaskadispatch.com