A man was charged with attempted murder after he shot a police officer at Centennial Campground in East Anchorage on Wednesday night, spurring chaos and fear at the area that has been sanctioned to house residents experiencing homelessness.
Both the officer, who was not immediately named, and Iese Gali Jr., who police say first fired at officers, were seriously wounded in the exchange of gunfire. A spokeswoman for the police department said both are expected to survive.
Gali, 32, had been released from jail in December after making bail on pending charges for his alleged involvement in a shooting that wounded a man last year. A warrant was issued for his arrest in March after he violated his conditions of release, according to charges filed against him Thursday.
Police initially described officers’ presence at the camp Wednesday night as a “security check.”
“These are very common and are part of a patrol officer’s job when they have time between dispatched calls,” police spokeswoman Renee Oistad said in an email Thursday afternoon. “It’s no different than officers driving through public parks during the hours they should be closed, or through school grounds at night or during the summer.”
Two uniformed police officers were patrolling the campground in separate marked department vehicles just before 8 p.m. when they noticed a parked truck matching the description of a vehicle that had eluded law enforcement on Tuesday, according to a criminal charging document written by Assistant District Attorney Daniel Shorey.
The officers got out of their vehicles to investigate and saw Gali near the truck, the charges said. Officers ordered him to stop, but he ignored the commands, walked toward a Chrysler minivan and got into the front passenger seat, Shorey wrote.
Police said the officers tried to physically remove Gali from the van, but he pulled out a firearm during the struggle and shot at the officers, striking one of them.
According to the charges, witnesses told detectives that neither officer had their gun out when Gali began firing, but that both officers quickly returned fire and Gali was shot.
“Citizens at the scene provided aid to our injured officer until backup arrived,” police said. “Responding officers administered life-saving measures to Gali, which medics took over upon their arrival.”
It was not clear by Thursday afternoon how many rounds were fired by Gali or the officers, Shorey wrote.
On Wednesday night, the van sat in the southeast corner of the campground, which was largely cordoned off by crime scene tape. The windows were shattered, several bullet holes punctured the side of the vehicle and at least 40 yellow evidence markers dotted the surrounding pavement.
Neither officer had been interviewed by detectives and the investigation into the shooting and the officers’ response “remains incomplete,” the charges said. The officers who fired their guns were placed on administrative leave and will be publicly identified three days after the shooting, according to police department policy.
Released on bail
Gali was still hospitalized as of Thursday, but police said he will be remanded to the Anchorage Correctional Complex upon discharge. He is charged with attempted murder, first- and third-degree assault and misconduct involving weapons.
He has filtered in and out of the criminal justice system since 2014, with convictions that include thefts, assaults and burglaries.
He was sentenced most recently in May 2019 to two years in prison for illegally owning a firearm. His felony convictions bar him from owning guns. Gali was released from custody on Jan. 12, 2021, and is charged for his alleged involvement in a shooting that took place less than a week after his release.
Police at the time said he and Hardy Muasau got into a verbal altercation with another man they were acquainted with. The fight became physical and police said Muasau shot the other man. He and Gali then fled the scene, according to police.
Gali was arrested a week later when police said officers responded to a call about him standing outside and yelling. Both he and Muasau were charged in the shooting -- the highest count, for felony first-degree assault, could be punishable by up to 20 years imprisonment.
Gali’s bail was initially set at $2,500 cash. A district court judge denied to lower the bail in February, the charges filed Thursday said. During another bail review hearing in August, Superior Court Judge Andrew Peterson lowered the bail to $1,000 cash with other conditions of release, including electronic monitoring and house arrest, the charges said.
In December, Gali posted the cash and was released from custody.
In March, a complaint was filed by the pretrial enforcement division because a probation officer said Gali cut off his ankle monitor and left the approved residence without permission, Shorey wrote. A warrant was issued for his arrest.
The otherwise often-raucous campground quieted in the hours after the shooting on Wednesday night. Fires crackled as campers cooked dinner and milled about in the light rain. Officers walked through the campground, pausing to talk with campers and ask if their tents were torn by bullets.
Campers and volunteers throughout the campground described hearing a barrage of shots ringing out throughout the park as the violence unfolded.
James Keele said he was trying to warm up inside his car with his dog, Atticus, when he saw the officers approach a site just across the street from where he has been camping. In a matter of minutes, he said, he watched as Gali and the officer were shot. He said he and his dog ran from the scene in hopes of reaching safety.
“It was a miracle nobody else was hurt,” he said Thursday morning, still visibly shaken from the incident.
It wasn’t clear from the charges whether Gali had been living at the campground. In late June, Mayor Dave Bronson’s administration repurposed the area as a sanctioned campground for the city’s unsheltered residents, directing and busing people there from illegal camps and as it closed the former mass shelter at Sullivan Arena.
Israel Chipps, who is camping next to where the shooting broke out, said he did not recognize Gali. Neither did Keele.
The campground has drawn serious safety concerns from elected officials, advocates, service providers and community groups in recent weeks. Campers on Thursday described witnessing routine drug use, violence and continued problems with bears, which have been drawn to the area by the smell of food. Five bears have been shot and killed at the campground after some ripped into tents, sometimes with people inside. One bear was shot earlier Wednesday.
A woman died of an overdose at the campground last week, and a fight Sunday drew a large police response and resulted in multiple assaults on officers, police said. The campground has drawn frequent police response since it was repurposed at the end of June. By Thursday afternoon, there had been 107 calls for service at the campground, according to data provided by the police department.
City officials don’t know exactly how many people are living at the camp, but estimate roughly 180 people have consistently stayed there. Estimates from volunteers and advocacy groups are higher, placing well over 200 people at the campground.
The Bronson administration expects Centennial to remain sanctioned for use by people experiencing homelessness through September or early October.
By Thursday afternoon, life continued on at Centennial Park. Campers walked through the rain to pick up plates of distributed food. They warmed themselves under tarps and next to fires. And they talked to their neighbors and friends — many trying to figure out the details of the previous night’s violence.
A mix of emotions lingered. Some residents said they felt numb to the bursts of violence, while others were frightened by the shooting and eager to leave a place they feel is deeply unsafe. Officials with the Salvation Army, which began managing the campground this week, began moving some families with children out of the campground on Thursday.