Rural Alaska

Fire chief killed by North Slope police pointed gun at officers, borough says

The North Slope Borough says the man shot and killed Wednesday by police in Barrow had pointed a shotgun at officers before one fired at him in self-defense.

In a statement Thursday afternoon, the borough said Vincent Nageak III, 36, confronted borough police officers responding to an emergency call of a "domestic disturbance" involving a man with a gun on the 7400 block of North Star Street, the neighborhood where Nageak had lived.

"The complainant and children on scene were evacuated from the home," the statement said. Nageak, armed with a shotgun, "pointed it at officers," the borough said.

"Nageak was shot at the residence by one of the responding officers and died at the scene," the statement said.

His body was flown to the State Medical Examiner Office in Anchorage for an autopsy.

The borough said an investigation is ongoing by the Alaska Bureau of Investigation, a branch of the state Department of Public Safety. The bureau's report will be evaluated by the Office of Special Prosecutions to determine whether the use of deadly force was justified.

Before the borough announcement was made, members of Nageak's family said they were in a state of shock over the shooting and trying to find out more about his final moments. Authorities had been reluctant to directly say how Nageak died and whether it was a North Slope Borough police officer who killed him.

Allison Akootchook Warden, a first cousin of Nageak and an Iñupiaq rap artist known as AKU-MATU, said Thursday that she had looked up to Nageak because of his Army service and his place in Alaska's northernmost town as a family man with a wife and several children.

"I've always admired him because he went to serve his country and he went to school," Warden said. "In our culture, cousins are like brothers; it's hard to lose someone so young."

When Nageak received an associate degree from Ilisagvik College in Barrow in May, Warden said, she was at the college to perform after the ceremony — and state Rep. Ben Nageak, Vincent's uncle, handed graduates their diplomas.

"He had worked really hard for that," Warden said. "I don't think (Rep. Nageak) could have been more proud of his nephew."

After he became a firefighter, Vincent Nageak put in more time to train as an emergency medical technician, eventually rising to lead the Barrow Volunteer Fire Department. Warden said his demeanor was a good match for the high-pressure job.

"He just had a really calm presence about him, a calm and strong presence," Warden said.

Wednesday's shooting was especially incomprehensible to Nageak's loved ones, Warden said, because he had worked for a few years as a correctional officer in Barrow — a position that put him in touch with many of the department's officers.

"He knew the system and he knew the people there," Warden said. "It seems to me he would know everyone in the police department, especially being chief of the fire department."

"Once I found out the true cause of his death, at the hands of a police officer, I was extremely angry," Warden said.

On Thursday morning, with no official account of Nageak's death yet released, his loved ones were awaiting an explanation.

"I have no idea what happened, but that the officer felt the need to mortally wound my cousin ..." said Warden, her voice breaking up. "I really want them to get to the bottom of it."

Rich Mauer contributed to this story.

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