Bethel police officers shot two men in two separate incidents in the span of one week. Prior to that, the last officer-involved shooting in Bethel was in 2014. The city’s police chief shared his reflections on the two incidents.
The second, more recent police shooting in Bethel took place around noon on Dec. 11. Police Chief Richard Simmons said that two officers were called to the intersection of Osage Street and Mission Drive.
“They were called by behavioral health personnel from the hospital,” Simmons said. “And they had lost a guy. They had had a guy take his knife away from them, and he had severe mental problems.”
At the scene, one of the officers drew his pistol and shot the man holding the knife. Simmons said that the man was flown to Anchorage for emergency surgery and was still in the critical care unit of the hospital the last time he checked. He said that the man will be charged with assault in the third degree.
A week prior, a similar situation occurred. A different set of police officers had responded to another man, who was wielding axes. One of the officers shot the man in that case as well. In both cases, Simmons said that the officers used the appropriate amount of force.
“As far as the legality of it, and the need for it at the time, it was the right decision to be made,” Simmons said. “The officers were in fear for their lives in both instances, and it was a legitimate fear.”
Bethel PD’s Use of Force Policy, and Alaska Statutes, authorize police to use deadly force if they believe there is imminent danger of death or serious injury to the officer or another person. In both shootings, Simmons said that the officers were wearing body cameras that were activated. That footage will be reviewed in investigations by Alaska State Troopers.
In both instances the officers were carrying a taser, but Simmons stands by their decisions to use a firearm instead of a taser because the suspects in both cases were wielding deadly weapons.
“In general, if somebody has deadly force, then we're going to have deadly force out,” Simmons said.
In those situations, he said that another officer can try to introduce a non-deadly weapon, but that can only happen if there is enough time. In the incident with the man wielding a knife, that wasn’t the case.
“It unfolded too fast. They were trying to get the other officer in place to bring a taser into play, but it just couldn't happen in time,” Simmons said.
After the man was shot and medevaced to Anchorage, Simmons called the man’s mother.
“I told her point blank that I was very sorry that we had to meet that way. And I was very sorry that the incident ended up the way it had to end up, that the officers had to make the decisions that they did. And she was understanding,” Simmons said.
The police chief placed the four officers involved in the two shootings on paid administrative leave.
“It's not punishment. It's, it's time to give them a chance. They're human,” Simmons said. “It's taxing on these guys’ souls, and we're gonna need a little time to recover.”
He said that there are enough officers to cover the shifts, even if that means substantial overtime. Simmons said that by Dec. 21, three of the four officers involved in the shootings will have returned to work. And he said that the remaining officer can take all the time he needs before coming back.