Bethel man shot by police officer after struggle

Tegan Hanlon

A 31-year-old man allegedly wielding a baseball bat was shot in the abdomen Friday morning by a Bethel police officer, said Alaska State Troopers.

Bethel police were responding to a report of an "ongoing disturbance" in a residential neighborhood when they came into contact with a man who "was holding a baseball bat," troopers reported in an online dispatch.

Family members identified the man as Aaron Moses.

Troopers said police "engaged in efforts to control the subject," including using Tasers. A "struggle" ensued and an officer was hit with the bat.

"One officer was able to draw his firearm, and the suspect was shot in the abdomen," troopers said.

Beth Ipsen, a troopers spokeswoman, wrote in an email that the officer suffered minor injuries.

Moses was flown to the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage. On Friday evening, he was in the hospital’s intensive care unit with a punctured lung, said his aunt Carolyn Moses in a phone interview from Bethel.

“It didn’t have to come to this,” she said. “My nephew Aaron, he’s not a big guy. He probably weighs only 140 pounds, 150 pounds if that. They didn’t have to shoot him.”

The Bethel Police Department reported the officer-involved shooting to troopers at 10:35 a.m. Staff from the Alaska Bureau of Investigation in Anchorage are traveling to Bethel to conduct an investigation, Ipsen wrote.

The Department of Law's Office of Special Prosecution will use the investigation results to determine if the shooting was justifiable.

Details of the fight leading up to the shooting remained unclear Friday evening. Ipsen wrote that the specifics would come out in the investigation. Calls to the chief of the Bethel Police Department were not returned.

“I don’t know the whole story,” said Carolyn Moses. “I don’t know exactly what has happened. It was sudden.”

Reports of Friday's officer-involved shooting come in the wake of a police brutality complaint recently filed by Linda Green, a professor working in Bethel.

KYUK, the Bethel public radio station, reported that Green saw a police officer pull up to a man walking in downtown Bethel. She said the two briefly spoke before the officer got out of his car, grabbed the man's arm, flipped him onto the pavement and tried to handcuff him.

Green brought her complaint to the city's police chief, mayor and interim city manager, Greg Moyer.

Moyer said in a phone interview that he had three phone conversations with the police chief Friday but did not have any additional information on the shooting. Moyer said the city is not involved in the investigation and is "letting the (Bethel Police) Department police chief run this with the state police." 

When asked about Green's complaint, Moyer said, "You can't link those two together."

Bethel's Orutsararmiut Native Council issued a statement Aug. 6 encouraging anyone with concerns about the Bethel Police Department to call the tribal council. The statement says ONC is especially concerned with police targeting and using excessive force on young Alaska Native men and women walking alone at night, as well as inebriates. 

"We will not tolerate this violation of basic human rights," the statement says.