Crime & Courts

APD: Man dies in police custody after running in and out of Anchorage traffic

The man who died in police custody Wednesday night was a 48-year-old electrician from Anchorage named Robert D. Ouelette. He was described by relatives as a good guy, a hard worker and a Pittsburgh Steelers fan.

Witnesses saw Ouelette shoeless, running in and out of traffic, south of downtown Anchorage around 8:30 p.m., police said.

He lost consciousness and died after officers put him in handcuffs, Anchorage Police Department spokesman MJ Thim said.

The officers didn't need to use force to restrain him, Thim said. He was never put in a patrol car, much less transported to jail.

The first reports described a "suspicious person" in the area of West 15th Avenue and C Street, according to a police update early Thursday. Ouellette was described as behaving erratically in the area of C between West 15th and West 16th avenues.

Multiple witnesses called 911 reporting a man running in and out of traffic with no shoes and yelling, Thim said Thursday morning.

Officers arrived and made contact with Ouellette, who continued behaving erratically, Thim said. They placed him in handcuffs around 15th and C.


He said the officers didn't need to use force.

The officers noticed Ouellette seemed to be "having health issues," Thim said. He didn't elaborate, but said the officers suspected drugs were involved.

They requested help from medics at that point, Thim said.

Then Ouellette became unconscious, he said. Officers started lifesaving efforts including CPR until Anchorage Fire Department medics arrived. Ouellette was taken to the hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Homicide detectives responded to the scene and are conducting a death investigation, police said. At the conclusion of the investigation, the case will be given to the Office of Special Prosecution for review.

"There is no indication the officers had to use force when they took him into custody," Thim said. "But because he died while he was in our custody, that is why we are taking these steps."

Ouellette's sister, Denise, said in a phone call from California that the last time she'd heard from her brother was in a recent text message. He'd been working on the North Slope, but said he was moving to Seattle next week.

Ouellette's mother, who lives in Idaho, got a call from a nurse Wednesday night. The nurse said Rob had died of a heart attack, but didn't mention police custody, Ouellette said.

She wonders what really happened.

"Something's fishy," she said. "My brother wasn't homeless. He's not broke. He's not the type of guy that would run around without any shoes."

Denise Ouellette's daughter found some "odd" posts he'd made on his Facebook page, "something about in Alaska, if somebody threatens you … you defend yourself."

But Ouellette has no idea whether that had anything to do with his actions Wednesday night.

The siblings grew up in Bakersfield, California. Ouellette lived in Washington state for a time before moving to Anchorage. He had no children.

Denise Ouellette said her brother was staying in a hotel, getting ready to move.

"He had plans," she said. "I don't know what happened."

Police weren't releasing any additional information Thursday.

They asked anyone who had recent contact with Ouellette to call Detective David Cordie at 907-786-8679.

Zaz Hollander

Zaz Hollander is a veteran journalist based in the Mat-Su and is currently an ADN local news editor and reporter. She covers breaking news, the Mat-Su region, aviation and general assignments. Contact her at