An Anchorage police officer who fatally shot a Mountain View man June 9 has been cleared in the confrontation, with the investigation finding that he was justified using deadly force.
The investigation, done by APD and reviewed by the state Office of Special Prosecution, concluded that officer Boaz Gionson was justified in using deadly force against Shane Tasi, 26, after Tasi approached him brandishing a large stick. No criminal charges are warranted.
Police Chief Mark Mew walked reporters through the scene Wednesday at a heated press conference. On hand were Tasi's widow, her attorney Phillip Weidner, and several family members. The family all wore black T-shirts saying, "We want justice."
In the press conference, Mew shared details of the event, including photographs and security camera footage that showed officers approaching the scene and Tasi leaving his house. Police ended the footage before Tasi was shot.
Mew said the Office of Special Prosecution looks at the legal standard for when deadly force is warranted. Their standard is that deadly force is authorized when an officer perceives a threat of imminent death or serious physical injury either to himself or another. All of those criteria were met in this instance.
"The complainant who was with Gionson said he felt like Gionson saved his life," Mew said. "He thought he was going to be hit."
Many in the community have questioned why less-than-lethal force, like a Taser, wasn't deployed by the officer, given that Tasi was only carrying a stick.
"Our opinion is even if the officer had it, it wasn't an option in these circumstances," Mew said. "It might have been if circumstances were different, but they weren't."
Three 911 calls
Earlier in the evening of June 9, Tasi and his wife were driving in the area together. Police believe he was intoxicated and hanging out of the vehicle before falling out. Tasi's wife left him there.
As he began walking home, Tasi generated two 911 calls. One caller said a man believed to be Tasi was confronting vehicles as he walked down the street. A second caller moments later said Tasi had attacked a dog.
Officers were dispatched, and a third 911 call came in. This time it was a young man saying he could hear people screaming inside the Tasis' residence and that a window had been broken.
Police said that during the shooting, Tasi's wife, who is pregnant, was in the apartment bathing the couple’s three children, who are between the ages of 1 and 3.
Pictures released show the apartment in severe disarray. A couch is flipped over. A refrigerator lies on its side, the handle broken off.
Police said that when Tasi arrived home he was frustrated about something, and the scene at the apartment demonstrates how enraged he was.
In the video, the young man who called 911 and two others knock on the window of Tasi's apartment and even enter through the front door, retreating after the dispatcher tells them to go home.
Gionson pulls into an alley behind the apartment while another officer pulls up next to the apartment complex on Bunn Street. The video shows witnesses, including the 911 caller, trying to flag down the officer on Bunn Street before running back to talk to Gionson, the first officer on the scene.
It's then that Tasi emerges from the house, shirtless, carrying a 39-inch broken broom handle. He slams it on the ground several times and walks toward Gionson.
Mew said six seconds elapsed from the time Tasi left the building to when he was shot. Gionson realized Tasi was a threat, Mew said, just two seconds after he left the house. Tasi ignored three commands to stop before Gionson opened fire.
Gionson fired three shots from a distance of seven feet, hitting Tasi in the chest and shoulder. Gionson let Tasi get within striking distance before he shot, police said.
Weider examining civil suit
Attorney Weidner, who was hired by Tasi's widow to investigate the appropriateness of a civil suit, answered questions related to his own investigation following the briefing.
The press conference rapidly turned tense. Before it even started, there was confusion over whether Weidner and the family were authorized to be there. After Weidner talked with Mew outside of the press conference, they were allowed to stay.
But before video of the shooting was played, Mew objected to allowing a relative's young daughter to stay in the room.
"I'm not sure I'm comfortable with this decision," Mew told Weidner, "I thought we had an agreement."
While the girl's guardian said she could stay, Mew continued to object. She left after hearing his concerns.
Later, Weidner asked questions regarding the isolation and questioning of Tasi's widow, despite her desire to see her husband at the hospital.
Police declined to comment on Weidner's questions after their attorney told them were not required to answer.
"Thank you for your question," Mew said. "This is a media briefing, not a cross examination or a deposition for a trial."
Weidner said Tasi's wife and the children had been isolated for 20 minutes in the laundry room of the apartment complex, but wouldn't exactly how long that was after the shooting, citing attorney-client privilege. After being released from the laundry room, she was taken to the police station for further questioning.
Weidner said he was investigating the merits of a civil rights suit.
"When your husband's shot and you want to go to them, I think any decent human being would let you go to the hospital," he said. "I think (not letting her go) may well (be) inappropriate, unconstitutional conduct, that's actionable."
Some have questioned why less-than-lethal force wasn't used against someone approaching with a piece of wood. Gionson was not carrying a Taser.
Less-than-lethal force is usually deployed by police officers side-by-side with lethal force. Because Gionson was the only officer on the scene when Tasi approached, that was not an option.
Less-than-lethal does two things, Mew said: Either it works or it doesn't work. When it doesn’t, an incident can escalate further.
In this case there was very little time and Tasi was coming at the officer.
"Like any technology, it's not perfect in all situations," he said. "Some of the public thinks it cures everything. I don't think it does."
Could the officer have retreated?
Mew said Office of Special Prosecutions has considered those options. He said an officer can't abandon the public. Gionson would have had to coordinate with the witness and there may not have been time for that.
"We're there to solve a problem, not run away," he said.
Contact Suzanna Caldwell at suzanna(at)alaskadispatch.com