Ketchikan’s police chief is facing criminal charges, including felony assault, stemming from a September altercation at a local restaurant in which he reportedly placed another man into a chokehold and didn’t release the man until others pulled him off.
Jeffrey Walls, who was indicted by a Ketchikan grand jury Thursday, was not arrested and is still serving as police chief. Walls entered a not guilty plea to four charges of assault and two charges of reckless endangerment at a hearing Friday.
During the hearing, his attorney called the indictment “false and defamatory allegations.”
Ketchikan City Manager Delilah Walsh said Friday that the city will conduct an internal investigation into the allegations to determine if administrative action is needed.
It wasn’t immediately clear why the charges, brought by the state Office of Special Prosecutions, didn’t come until more than three months after the incident. Officials with the Alaska Department of Law declined to answer questions and said they couldn’t provide information beyond the facts provided in public documents.
The altercation that led to the charges took place the evening of Sept. 10 as Walls and his wife ate dinner at the bar at the Salmon Falls Resort restaurant in Ketchikan, according to reports at the time and information included with this week’s indictment. The men did not know each other, both accounts say.
Walls was off duty at the time.
The Daily News is not identifying the man involved in the fight because he is not facing any charges related to the incident. He was originally arrested and jailed, however, before the charges against him were dismissed.
The first official account of what happened in September told a different story than the indictment did this week, identifying the man as the perpetrator and not mentioning the alleged attack from Walls at all.
An online report from Alaska State Troopers at the time said only that a 36-year-old Washington state man was jailed at the Ketchikan Correctional Center following an assault report at “a local restaurant in Ketchikan.”
The man walked by and shoved Walls in his seat, pushing him into the bar, according to a probable-cause statement filed with a criminal complaint in September. The two separated, only to encounter each other again about 90 minutes later.
The second time, the man said he was trying to provoke Walls by staring when he tripped and lost his balance and accidentally ran into Walls’ wife, leaving her with what she described as pain and bruising, according to the probable cause statement signed by Trooper Larry Dur’an. The man told troopers he had been drinking and was just joking around.
The man was arrested on misdemeanor charges of fourth-degree assault, second-degree harassment and for being drunk on a licensed premise. Those charges were dismissed without prejudice at the end of October, according to the dismissal document.
The probable cause statement includes no reference to any fight that followed. It also doesn’t indicate that the man who was charged was injured.
A different story emerged this week in court documents filed as part of the indictment.
The man was bleeding from his head when troopers arrived at the restaurant, and he received stitches and medical care for a laceration on his forehead, according to an informational statement signed by Assistant Attorney General Mark Clark.
The reported attack began after the man bumped Walls’ wife and continued walking toward the bathroom, the statement said. Walls ran after him and pushed his head into a wall made of rock or stone, according to the statement.
Witnesses told troopers that Walls then placed the man in a chokehold, the statement said. It took multiple people roughly 30 seconds to pull Walls away from the man, it said. The man’s head began to turn red and he could not speak during the chokehold, which lasted about one or two minutes in total, according to the statement.
Video footage from the restaurant did not show the stumble into the chair or the assault, but footage did show Walls being pulled from the area by multiple people, according to the informational statement. Walls tried to go after the man again, it said, and was again pulled back by other people.
The attorney representing Walls, Jay Hochberg, said in a phone interview Friday that it was Walls who was the victim of assault when the man intentionally bumped into him, and Walls believed the man was again intentionally assaulting them when he ran into his wife. Hochberg said Walls was attempting to detain the man for the crime and denied that Walls choked the man.
During an initial hearing Friday at the Ketchikan courthouse, Hochberg said Walls is “very interested and anxious to get into court as quickly as reasonably possible to preserve and defend and protect his own reputation, show the community of Ketchikan that he has done absolutely nothing wrong.”
Walls is charged with third-degree assault, which is a felony, three misdemeanor counts of fourth-degree assault and two misdemeanor charges of reckless endangerment.
He appeared in court Friday on a summons and was released on his own recognizance, meaning he will not be remanded to custody or pay bail. He was ordered to follow specific conditions including not discussing the case with witnesses and not contacting the victim.
Judge Katherine Lybrand said the court is required to set the least restrictive conditions necessary to ensure that a defendant appears for hearings. Walls has a clean criminal record, has not been involved in any additional altercations since the September altercation and — because of his position as a police chief — has established deep connections to the community even though he moved to Ketchikan fairly recently, Lybrand said.
Walls was hired in December 2021 to become the police chief. He worked at the New Orleans Police Department for 24 years and most recently was the commander of a high-profile patrol district that included the French Quarter and Central Business District.
Walls was out on personal leave Friday surrounding the holiday, said city manager Walsh, and administrative action had not been taken to place him on leave or remove him from the position. Walsh said an investigator will speak with witnesses, review charging documents and present the findings to her so she can ultimately decide what, if any, action to take.
It’s not clear how long the investigation could take, and officials have yet to determine who will conduct the investigation, she said.
“We will treat Chief Walls just like any other officer or employee,” Walsh said.