BETHEL — In the midst of two investigations into Bethel police actions, a video has emerged that sheds light on — and raises questions about — one of the incidents.
The three-minute video posted Monday on radio station KYUK's website and Facebook page shows an altercation Friday between a man and two officers in which he rushes them with a baseball bat, swings at an officer who had fallen, and ends up on the ground himself.
Alaska State Troopers, who are investigating the incident, say the man was shot and that stun guns were used. It's impossible to tell from the video precisely when those things happened, but acting city manager Greg Moyer said the man was Tasered before he was shot. Both officers are shown with weapons drawn and pointed at the man.
Family members have identified the man involved as Aaron Moses, 31. Troopers have not confirmed his name. The man remained hospitalized Monday with injuries that were "non-life threatening," trooper spokeswoman Megan Peters said Monday. The troopers' initial report said he was shot in the abdomen.
The other incident happened in July, when a visiting professor from Arizona says she witnessed police brutality outside the AC Value Center, one of the main stores in Bethel. Police have been investigating the complaint brought by Linda Green, an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Arizona. She told KYUK she saw an officer pick a man up and slam him to the ground multiple times.
Moyer said he received a briefing and materials Monday on that incident but couldn't discuss it because the city has been notified of a possible lawsuit. Attorney Sean Brown said in a voice mail message late Monday afternoon that his firm, Power and Brown, is representing Wassillie Gregory.
Gregory has been in and out of trouble for years in cases connected to alcohol, court records show. Moses has had a troubled history with alcohol too, according to records.
After the Friday shooting, Moses was medevacked to Anchorage. He is being treated at Alaska Native Medical Center, according to family. He asked the hospital not to release information at this point, spokeswoman Fiona Brosnan said.
OFFICERS NOT YET NAMED
Moyer said Monday the officers involved were put on administrative leave, as is standard in police-involved shootings. Their names haven't yet been released but Police Chief Andre Achee intends to do so Tuesday, Moyer said.
Moyer said he was told that the police department follows trooper policy in which names are released after 72 hours. That mark was reached Monday morning. Moyer didn't know why the names hadn't yet been provided to the public.
In 2012, Bethel police came under criticism after the fatal shooting of Sam Alexie Jr. In that case, the officer's name was not released for months but he was eventually identified as Andrew Reid. Reports from the time say Alexie was intoxicated and pointed a gun at the officer before he was shot.
Moyer referred detailed questions to Achee. The police chief didn't return phone calls Monday.
MAN RUSHES OFFICERS
KYUK says it is not revealing any information about the new video other than to say it was rotated "but not edited in any other way." The station warned viewers of graphic images and language.
The video appears to have been shot by someone watching out a nearby window in the Bethel neighborhood.
Police were called to the neighborhood Friday morning to deal with "an ongoing disturbance," according to a trooper report Friday.
The video shows the officers pulling up in white SUVs, then walking down the street. Around the 50-second mark, a man runs toward the police with the bat in swinging position. He backs off for a few seconds, only to rush them again. The man targets one of the officers who runs backward, stumbles and falls to the ground. The man swings the bat at the downed officer and appears to make contact. The other officer has a weapon aimed at the man. A loud pop is heard.
The man doesn't fall. He moves toward the officers a couple more times, then backs off, walking behind a small building that temporarily blocks the view. The officers follow him. As the man emerges on the other side of the building, he falls to the ground. Both officers approach him there and appear to restrain him.
Bethel police made an audio recording of the encounter. Both officers can be heard ordering the man to drop the bat multiple times, said Moyer, who listened to the recording Monday.
"You hear it on the audio. Put your bat down. Put your bat down. Put your bat down — at least a dozen times," Moyer said. They were yelling loudly, he said. "You actually are hearing the Tasers being deployed."
The Alaska Bureau of Investigation, part of the Alaska State Troopers, is leading the investigation. In an email Monday, Peters said troopers weren't prepared to discuss the case or answer questions about the video yet.
Analysis "of all the evidence will take time," Peters said. "We are not able to provide commentary on the video as all the evidence must be reviewed for investigators to determine context."
ROUGH POLICE ENCOUNTER
The earlier police encounter took place in the parking lot of the AC store. Court records show that Gregory, 48, was arrested July 12 on misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct, harassment and resisting arrest. The arresting officer was Reid, the same officer involved in the 2012 fatal shooting.
Gregory missed an early court appearance because he was in the hospital with a dislocated shoulder and possible broken collarbone, according to notes in the court file.
In a sworn statement supporting the charges, Reid said he saw Gregory "clearly intoxicated (staggering, stumbling, wobbling, odor of alcoholic beverage)" and tried to take him into protective custody. Instead, Gregory pulled away from him and "we went to the ground," the officer wrote.
Two days later, Gregory appeared in court and pleaded no contest to harassment. The other charges were dismissed.
He told Magistrate Judge Bruce Ward that he was 48 and tired of being in jail. The court clerk's notes don't give any indication that Gregory complained of police mistreatment.
"I guess I need to start behaving like an adult," Gregory is quoted as saying. He said he didn't know if he had ever been arrested sober.
After that brutality complaint, acting city manager Moyer directed police to wear cameras and record encounters with the public where "appropriate." The new cameras arrived last week but hadn't yet been distributed at the time of the shooting, he said. He said he was glad someone recorded Friday's incident.
"I put that directive out, starting immediately. Every officer that hits the streets here in Bethel, if you are on duty, you have a body camera," Moyer said. Bethel has about a dozen officers, he said. The new video cameras attach to police vests. "You just hit your vest twice and it comes on," he said.
Gloria Simeon, president of Orutsararmiut Native Council, the tribe for Bethel, said the cultural rift between police and the community is deep. Bethel is about 65 percent Alaska Native, according to census figures. Simeon said she was aware of just one Alaska Native on the police force.
After the allegations of brutality at the AC store, ONC issued a statement saying it was concerned about community members and visitors who feel threatened by police. Inebriated young people may be particularly vulnerable, ONC said. Previous promises by the city to develop cultural sensitivity training after the October 2012 death of Alexie were not kept, Simeon said.
"Our message is stay off the streets if you have been drinking. Watch out for Bethel PD," Simeon said over the weekend.
The problem is being seen around the country, she said, pointing to the high-profile shooting death of an unarmed teenager in Ferguson, Missouri this month.
"It's brown people that are suffering," she said.
That training may still be needed, Moyer said. Still, people are staying calm so far.
"It's a shame," he said. "It really is."
Reach Lisa Demer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 907-545-3555.