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Mat-Su debates 'vigilante' justice after school board member shoots fleeing suspect

  • Author: Zaz Hollander
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published April 4, 2016

WASILLA -- Mat-Su school board and state parole board member Richard "Ole" Larson shot a man who crossed his Wasilla-area property trying to escape arrest last week.

Larson shot 24-year-old Codey Tallman after Tallman ran onto Larson's property during a hectic attempt to elude Alaska State Troopers last Wednesday afternoon in a residential neighborhood off Bogard Road, court documents show.

Tallman, a purported heroin user whose pickup was found after the chase to contain hypodermic needles, remains jailed at Mat-Su Pretrial. He was arrested on felony charges of drug possession and reckless driving, along with misdemeanor charges of driving under the influence, assault, reckless endangerment and failing to stop for a school bus.

It's unclear whether Larson will face criminal charges for his actions. He was not arrested and faces no charges at this point. The Palmer District Attorney said troopers have yet to forward him the case and it could be weeks before any decision is made.

The shooting happened after troopers received a report that Tallman's silver Ford Ranger, thought to be involved in a series of thefts at local businesses, had been spotted near a store, and they found him in the Cottonwood Shores subdivision, according to a sworn affidavit filed last week at the Palmer courthouse by trooper Jason Crockett. The subdivision is one of the largest in the Valley.

Tallman ditched his pickup following a high-speed chase that included him passing a stopped school bus at 60 mph, Crockett wrote. On foot and headed southeast from the pickup he'd left on Pine Drive, Tallman ran onto Larson's property on nearby Willow Drive. The property is separated from a neighbor's by a stand of birch.

Troopers have said Larson told Tallman to stop and Tallman shoved him.

"An altercation ensued and Larson was knocked to the ground. Larson followed Tallman as he went into the woods and Tallman knocked Larson down a second time …" Crockett stated.

Tallman headed back toward the front yard of a home behind Larson's, the affidavit says, and when Larson told him he was calling troopers, Tallman hit Larson and knocked his phone from his hand and his glasses off his face.

"Larson removed a .38 caliber handgun from his (pocket) and advised Tallman he was armed and told him to stop," Crockett wrote, adding that Larson later said he didn't see well without his glasses. "Tallman charged Larson and Larson fired striking Tallman in the leg."

Tallman was treated at Mat-Su Regional Medical Center. As of Monday afternoon, he remained jailed at Mat-Su Pretrial. His next court hearing is scheduled for Friday. Past convictions include felony second-degree theft in 2012 and felony first-degree vehicle theft in 2013.

A troopers spokeswoman didn't respond to questions about where Larson and Tallman were located throughout the incident in relation to Larson's property. Alaska statute prohibits the use of deadly force "if the person knows that, with complete personal safety and with complete safety as to others being defended, the person can avoid the necessity of using deadly force by leaving the area of the encounter." Exceptions include on one's property or as a guest or "express or implied agent" of the owner, assisting a peace officer or protecting a member of one's own household.

A more recent exception added in 2013 states a person is not required to retreat to avoid using deadly force if they are "in any other place where the person has a right to be."

Social media is loving the vigilante neighbor scenario, especially here in the Valley, where an ongoing property crime waved linked to heroin or prescription drug abuse has residents on edge.

"Perhaps an armed homeowner sends a clearer message than the revolving door at the courthouse" one commenter posted on the roundtable site for a Mat-Su neighborhood watch Facebook group. A neighbor of Larson's said she brought him cookies in gratitude. One poster called for a legal defense fund in the event charges are filed; another said they had "hoped for better than a leg shot."

The local paper, however, published a stern editorial Sunday headlined "Vigilante justice not the way to stop Valley thieves" that argued against the kill-shot mentality.

"Further, the idea that death should be the punishment for such crimes as fleeing police, theft and drug possession is an idea that has long since been abandoned by civilized societies," the editorial states. It goes on to point out that Larson wasn't obligated to follow Tallman, while also saying he shouldn't be jailed for his decision.

Any decision on charges is likely weeks away, Palmer District Attorney Roman Kalytiak said Monday. Alaska State Troopers have said they will forward the case to the DA's office for a decision, which could involve multiple prosecutors or a grand jury.

The case is getting a lot of attention, which isn't surprising but may also be fueled by state budget cuts expected to limit staffing for troopers and local prosecutors, Kalytiak said.

"I think people are wondering whether there are going to be more situations where citizens are engaging in some type of self help," he said. "But when it comes to us making the decision, while those editorials might be interesting, clearly our decisions aren't going to be based on somebody's opinion in an editorial. It's just strictly going to be based on the facts of the case, and the law."

A call to Larson's home Friday wasn't returned.

Former Wasilla mayor Verne Rupright, a longtime defense attorney in the Valley, said he was representing Larson and provided a brief statement.

Larson intentionally shot Tallman in the leg, Rupright said. "He didn't want to end the guy, so he used a lot of restraint in what he did."

Correction: This story, using a previous version of the statute, initially omitted a statutory provision governing the justified use of deadly force in Alaska. The provision states a person is not required to retreat to avoid using deadly force "in any other place where the person has a right to be."

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