Community puzzled by action resulting in Nikiski man's death

Troopers seek answers in shooting

Posted: Monday, January 06, 2003

Alaska State Troopers are still trying to figure out what happened early Saturday morning when Casey G. Porter was killed. The answer, however, is not likely to come for several weeks yet.

Porter, a 30-year-old oil field worker from Nikiski, was shot and killed by troopers after reportedly refusing to keep his hands visible and exit his vehicle, then trying to ram one of the troopers' vehicles with his car. One of the troopers was standing behind the door of the patrol car in Porter's path, which was positioned facing Porter's car.

"As far as I understand, he deliberately accelerated the car," said trooper spokesperson Greg Wilkinson. "As to his motives, I have no idea."

Troopers with the Criminal Investigations Bureau are looking for more information to help fill the holes in the story.

On Sunday, the bureau was searching Porter's car and interviewing troopers Arthur "Jesse" J. Osborn and Joseph Whittom.

"They are very thorough; they go very slowly," Wilkinson said. "It could easily take a couple of weeks, maybe even months."

According to a preliminary report, Osborn and Whittom responded to a report of a suspicious vehicle parked in the pullout at Kenai Keys Road and Mile 80 of the Sterling Highway at about 2 a.m. Osborn parked behind the blue sedan and approached Porter's driver's window, while Whittom parked facing the sedan and stood behind his car door for cover, Wilkinson said.

Osborn spoke to Porter, telling him to keep his hands in sight and exit the vehicle. Porter reportedly refused, however, and fidgeted with something under the seat.

Troopers have not said whether a weapon was found in the car. There was, however, a $1,000 outstanding warrant for Porter's arrest for violating conditions of release. Wilkinson could not discuss past charges filed against Porter.

According to troopers, Osborn then sprayed Porter with pepper spray, and Porter responded by placing both hands on the steering wheel and accelerating toward Whittom's car. Osborn told Porter to stop, then opened fire. Troopers would not say how many times Osborn fired his gun.

Wilkinson said it is hard to pinpoint an exact standard operating procedure for troopers, because each case is different. He said, however, troopers are trained in a continuum of force, which encourages officers to deal with people starting with the lowest level of force -- standing nearby or simply talking -- and continuing as necessary through their options, which include more forceful dialogue, soft-hand procedures, use of less-than-lethal weapons, such as pepper spray, then use of lethal force.

"A trooper can jump into (the continuum) at any point," depending on the needs of the situation, Wilkinson said. But, he added, they are supposed to do what makes sense. "You don't pull someone over and immediately use pepper spray.

"I don't know the details -- they'll come out in the investigation -- but something in this situation escalated very rapidly."

The bureau will spend the next several weeks investigating just what made the situation escalate, Wilkinson said. So far, he said, investigators are in the process of constructing a diagram to illustrate the events, getting search warrants to continue the investigation and arranging an autopsy on Porter's body.

Osborn and Whittom have been placed on three-day administrative leave with pay. Wilkinson said more information likely will not be released until the investigation is complete.

In the meantime, however, some members of the community are asking their own questions.

For example, Bob Kintzele of Kenai wondered if the trooper's use of force was necessary.

A legal investigator with attorney Bob Cowan's office, Kintzele said he has heard numerous reports of Osborn using pepper spray on suspects.

"Trooper Osborn has been known to use (pepper spray) on subjects more frequently than any other trooper in my 30 years experience as a legal investigator in this state," Kintzele said. "It's a tragic circumstance, but predictable."

Wilkinson was unaware of past complaints against Osborn and said he was unable to release such information about individual troopers in any case.

Shannon Spoonts of Nikiski, who is a friend of the Porter family, also had questions.

She said Porter was injured in an accident a year ago and was wheelchair-bound when she last saw him a month ago.

"The last year or so has been pretty rough (for his family)," Spoonts said, adding that Porter had two daughters.

"If he was walking, it couldn't have been for long," she said. "I don't know if he was even able to get out (of the car) and stand up."

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