Crime & Courts

Anchorage police officers who shot and killed unarmed man will not face charges, state review says

Four Anchorage police officers who shot and killed a man in mid-December will not face criminal charges, according to a review from the state’s Office of Special Prosecutions.

In the days after the shooting, police would not say whether 34-year-old William A. Riley-Jennings was armed, but the review says he did not have any weapons on him when he was killed by police gunfire in the early hours of Dec. 20.

Police were initially called to the Mountain View neighborhood minutes before midnight on Dec. 19 because a man reported his Chevy Tahoe had been stolen and he was following it in another vehicle, according to the review, which was signed by Chief Assistant Attorney General Jack McKenna. The man told police that the driver in the stolen Chevy had tried to ram his vehicle, according to the review. At 12:08 a.m. Dec. 20, police found the SUV abandoned in a parking lot near Reka Drive and Pine Street, the review said.

Officers requested a police canine to help track Riley-Jennings, who left footprints in the snow that trailed into a dense wooded area near Russian Jack Springs Park, McKenna wrote.

Less than a half-hour later, five officers walked through the woods with a canine, the review said. The dog, Bravo, barked when they reached a section of trees near Russian Jack Elementary School, the review said. The dog bit Riley-Jennings on the lower leg, McKenna wrote.

“Mr. Riley-Jennings, who was described as sitting with his back against a tree and his legs out towards the officers, yelled, ‘I have a gun,’” the review said. “The officers described seeing the man raise an arm and point at several members of their group. The ... officers fired their weapons, killing Mr. Riley-Jennings. Subsequent investigation revealed that Mr. Riley-Jennings did not actually have a weapon.”

During interviews with the involved officers detailed in the review, several of them said they recalled hearing Riley-Jennings twice say that he had a gun. One said after Riley-Jennings told them that, he yelled at the others that Riley-Jennings had a gun. Some of the officers remembered commands they or their colleagues had shouted toward Riley-Jennings warning him not to move. Another officer shone his flashlight at Riley-Jennings but said the illumination was obstructed by branches.

Four of the officers then fired their guns at Riley-Jennings. In the days after the shooting, police identified the officers as Timothy Dorsey, Colin Neace, Jose Maldonado and Jacob Raygor.

In the interviews described in the review, the four officers said they thought Riley-Jennings was armed when they fired. Alaska law allows law enforcement to use deadly force if they believe their life or the life of someone else is in danger.

[Special report: When Alaska police use deadly force, who holds them accountable?]

“Because the officers’ subjective belief that deadly force was necessary to defend themselves and their fellow officers was also objectively reasonable under the circumstances, their use of deadly force was legally justified,” the review said.

The Office of Special Prosecutions, part of the state Department of Law, typically reviews police shootings in Alaska.

Anchorage police also do an internal review for all officer-involved shootings to determine if officers followed policy and procedure. Disciplinary records in the department are confidential.

An analysis by the Anchorage Daily News in August showed that 43 people had been killed by law enforcement statewide during the last 5 1/2 years. None of the officers involved faced criminal charges.

Riley-Jennings was the third man to die by police gunfire in the Anchorage Municipality during 2020. In February, 16-year-old Daelyn Polu was shot by police and died. The department said he fired at officers before he was shot. In October, 43-year-old Keith Beecroft was fatally shot outside his Eagle River home after a SWAT standoff.

Tess Williams

Tess Williams is a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News, focusing on breaking news. Before joining the ADN in 2019, she was a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota and previously helped cover the Nebraska Legislature for The Associated Press. Contact her at twilliams@adn.com.

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