Alaska State Troopers arrested a Chefornak man for a list of charges, including terroristic threatening of health care workers offering COVID-19 vaccines.
On July 15, a tribal police officer in Chefornak called the Alaska State Troopers. According to a trooper affidavit, the officer reported that two men were walking around the village with long guns. The men were protesting the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation’s plans to send a team to Chefornak to distribute COVID-19 vaccines.
One of the men protesting was Eric Wasili, age 38, who the affidavit says has “extensive history” with troopers. The men were not breaking any laws, but troopers advised the Chefornak Tribal Council to contact them if the men’s protest continued, so that troopers could escort the health care workers if necessary.
A few days later, on July 20, four people in Chefornak tested positive for the coronavirus after three months in which there were no reported cases in the community. That same day, YKHC Vice President James Sweeney called troopers to inform them of YKHC’s plans to travel to Chefornak later that week to distribute vaccines.
Then the next day, July 21, Sweeney contacted troopers again. He’d received a threatening Facebook post from the account of Wasili, one of the men who’d been protesting the COVID-19 vaccines. According to a trooper affidavit, the post threatened "deadly force upon the Chefornak Village Council, YKHC, and to all who are behind mass distribution of vaccinations.”
Sweeney asked troopers to provide an escort for YKHC. Troopers said that they would go to investigate the threat and ensure everyone’s safety. The following day, troopers traveled to Chefornak, a day ahead of when YKHC planned to arrive. When troopers went to arrest Wasili at his home, Wasili ran to another house and came out with a scoped rifle and a shotgun.
A surreal, armed standoff ensued.
Wasili aimed the rifle at one of the troopers, who later wrote in an affidavit, “I was afraid I was going to die.” Troopers yelled at Wasili to drop the weapons. Wasili’s father, who is a former Chefornak Tribal Police Officer, also urged his son to surrender.
While this was occurring, a man kept riding a bicycle back and forth between the troopers and Wasili. Another man emerged from the house where Wasili had retrieved the guns, yelled at the troopers, and gave Wasili pitchers of a drink. And a woman who called herself Wasili’s sister yelled at the troopers, “saying AST is only interested in money,” according to a trooper affidavit.
Eventually, Wasili walked with the guns to the Chefornak boat launch and boated away. Troopers returned to Bethel. A couple of days later, on July 24, Chefornak residents arrested Wasili and troopers took him into custody.
Wasili is charged with multiple violations, including one count of terroristic threatening, two counts of third degree assault on troopers, assault in the fourth degree, reckless endangerment, and resisting arrest.
The Alaska Public Defender Agency is representing Wasili and did not respond to KYUK’s request for comment.
Chefornak Tribal Administrator Dora Mathew said that the Chefornak Tribal Council fully supports YKHC’s efforts to vaccinate residents against COVID-19.
YKHC Public Information Officer Mary Horgan said that health care workers traveled to Chefornak in the past week to offer COVID-19 vaccines to the community. According to YKHC, 36.8% of Chefornak's total population is vaccinated against the virus.