Crime & Courts

State will not prosecute Spenard business owner who shot customer

The Anchorage District Attorney's Office has decided not to prosecute the owner of a Spenard business who shot one of his customers last month.

The owner of Determine Design, Daniel Clift, said he acted in self-defense when he fired his handgun Nov. 15, shooting Shelton Landon once in the torso.

While the shooting case "meets the elements" of first-degree assault, prosecutors would not be able to prove in court that Clift didn't act in self-defense, according to a letter from Deputy District Attorney Christina Sherman to Anchorage Police Detective James Anderson.

"This in no (way) implies that Mr. Clift's conduct is not of concern, but simply that the state will be unable to disprove self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt," the letter said.

Officials have not released many details about what exactly happened inside Clift's architecture company, Determine Design, that November afternoon.

The letter, dated Thursday, does not specify why the state could not disprove self-defense. To reach the decision, it said Sherman reviewed police reports, photos, audio, a 911 call, medical records and copies of emails. Sherman declined to comment further.

"The letter speaks for itself, and we do not discuss criminal investigations aside from what is in the public document," she said in an email.


Anchorage police said in a brief statement last month that a customer went into Determine Design on Nov. 15 to talk about a project.

"An argument ensued over payment; the employee produced a gun and shot the victim once in the torso," the police statement said.

The employee immediately called 911 and reported that he had shot someone, according to police.

Renee Oistad, a police spokeswoman, referred any additional questions about the shooting to the DA's office, which said it could not provide any more information.

In phone interviews this week, Clift and Landon told contrasting stories about what exactly happened inside of the second-floor architecture company last month.

The business is located on West Northern Lights Boulevard, just west of Arctic Boulevard.

Clift said in an interview Thursday that Landon was disgruntled and violent when he came into business the afternoon of Nov. 15.

He said Landon had asked the company for a change order on architecture plans for a marijuana business he is starting in Spenard. The architecture company billed him $600 for the work and he didn't want to pay, according to Clift.

"He was disgruntled and basically said, 'Why should I pay you?' and grabbed me and pushed me back across the office," Clift said.

"He started whacking my shoulder and saying, 'Now you're pushing me. Now you're pushing me.' "

Clift said he repeatedly asked Landon to leave. Clift said he grabbed the handgun he kept in the office, and said he hoped to try to keep Landon away while he called police.

"He walked back toward me and tried to get in my face and I think he was trying to take my gun," he said.

Clift said he pulled the trigger.

"He was physically aggressive and I didn't know what else to do," he said.

He said he did not believe Landon carried a gun that day in the shop. He said he wished he could have gone back in time and not started the project with Landon, so "we could have just avoided this whole situation."

Landon said in an interview Friday that he never pushed or shoved Clift. He never got violent at all, he said.

He said he came into the business that day with $600 in his pocket, intending to pay the bill so he could get the drawings.


He said he asked Clift for an itemized receipt so he could better understand the added costs. He said Clift responded, "Just pay the bill, Shelton."

Landon said he became agitated, stood up and asked Clift, "Have I ever screwed you guys or stiffed you guys or given you any reason to be tripping over 600 bucks?"

He said he then thought Clift was walking over to a computer to look at the invoice, but instead produced a handgun.

"I throw my hands up in the air and say, 'What are you going to do? Shoot me?' And that's when he shot me," he said.

"I had no weapons, no guns, no knives, no nothing and he shot me."

Landon was taken to the hospital that day. He said he underwent three surgeries. One of his kidneys and part of his stomach were removed. He said he was in a coma for about a week.

"My equilibrium is way off. I'm trying to learn to walk again," he said Friday.

Alaska law says a person can use deadly force if he or she reasonably believes its use is necessary for self-defense against death, serious physical injury, kidnapping, sexual assault, sexual abuse of a minor or robbery.


State law has always said people attacked in their home do not have the "duty to retreat" — a legal obligation to flee if they can do so safely, said Senior Anchorage Assistant District Attorney James Fayette.

In 2006, the Alaska Legislature eliminated the duty to retreat for people defending their business.

Then in 2013, the Legislature did away with the duty to retreat "if you're in a place where you lawfully have a right to be," Fayette said.

Tegan Hanlon

Tegan Hanlon was a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News between 2013 and 2019. She now reports for Alaska Public Media.