After more than a year reviewing the Alaska State Trooper report on the March 2006 shooting at the Homer Airport involving U.S. Marshals and Homer Police, U.S. Attorney Jeffery Sullivan announced Thursday that he will not file federal charges against any law enforcement officers involved.
"There is no question that the events of March 1, 2006, were a tragedy," Sullivan said in a press release. "But it was a tragedy of Jason Anderson's own making. It was Jason Anderson who shot his son, fired at officers, and then killed himself. With 20-20 hindsight we can all see ways that law enforcement could have improved their apprehension plan. But none of us were in their shoes, making decisions minute to minute. And none of us know what the outcome might have been, had they allowed Jason Anderson to drive out of that parking lot. Anderson was a ticking time bomb, who could have injured or killed more innocent people in his efforts to avoid apprehension."
Sullivan, the U.S. Attorney, Western District, Seattle, began reviewing the case in late November 2006 after the Alaska Department of Law concluded "certain facts of the March 2006 shooting may constitute violations of Alaska's criminal statutes," a spokesman said last year. Because the incident involved U.S. Marshals who work closely with the U.S. Attorney's office in Alaska, Sullivan took over the case.
"We're pleased that it turned out the way it did, but as always, our hearts go out to the family. This is a tragic, tragic situation," said Mark Otte, chief deputy officer of the U.S. Marshal's office, Anchorage. "Our officers' intentions the entire time were to take care of those kids and protect public safety."
Anderson's children and their mother, Cheryl Dietzmann, are represented by Anchorage attorneys Marion Kelly, Pam Sullivan and Philip Weidner. The attorneys were reading U.S. Attorney Sullivan's analysis, but had not yet prepared a statement by press time.
U.S. Marshals and Homer Police were involved the shooting at the Homer Airport with Jason Karlo Anderson, 31, when marshals attempted to arrest Anderson on a federal fugitive warrant. Anderson died in the shooting, and his son, Jason Anderson, then 2, was severely injured. Anderson and his two children were in a rental Jeep when officers opened fire. Anderson's daughter, Darla, was not harmed. At the time of the shooting, around 6 p.m., the airport was crowded with more than 100 adults and students leaving Homer for a choir tour of Italy.
Alaska State Medical Examiner Dr. Franc Fallico later determined Anderson died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound and said Anderson shot his son in the face.
Homer Police provided backup for U.S. Marshals. Three Homer police officers and one marshal fired their weapons. Homer Police Chief Mark Robl later said police were not aware and had not been told children were in the Jeep with Anderson.
Alaska State Troopers investigated the shooting at the request of marshals and police. Troopers were not involved in the shooting. The troopers sent their report to the Alaska Department of Law in June 2006. Sullivan said his office reviewed more than 2,000 documents including interviews with more than 30 witnesses. The assistant U.S. Attorney assigned to the case, Lawrence Lincoln, evaluated the facts in light of federal statutes available for prosecution. Sullivan said.
The U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, also reviewed the case, Sullivan said.
"There is no reason to believe that any law enforcement officer acted willfully to violate the civil rights of Anderson or his son," Sullivan said.
Sullivan prepared a 57-page memo detailing the shooting that he sent to Alaska U.S. Attorney Nelson Cohen, the U.S. Marshal Service, Alaska State Troopers and the Alaska Department of Law. Citing federal privacy laws, Sullivan did not release the entire memo to the public. He did release a three-page memo outlining the case and his legal reasoning in not pressing federal charges.
"The legal analysis is exhausting and thorough. I believe we were fair to all the competing interests in this case in trying o reach a fair result," Sullivan said.
Under its legal analysis, Sullivan and his assistant, Assistant U.S. Attorney Lawrence Lincoln, considered if officer actions were a violation of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibiting unreasonable seizures. Sullivan cited case law from the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal.
"Our precedents do not forbid any consideration of events leading up to a shooting," Sullivan said, quoting the Ninth Circuit. "But neither do they permit a plaintiff to establish a Fourth Amendment violation based merely on bad tactics that result in a deadly confrontation that could have been avoided."
Sullivan said a Fourth Amendment violation was not established.
"There was no intentional seizure of the son by law enforcement officers," Sullivan wrote.
Sullivan also ruled out a Fifth Amendment violation of due process by the officers. Officers did not seek to harm Anderson's son, Sullivan wrote, one standard which must be shown for violation of the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment.
"In sum, we concluded that no reasonable jury would find that the Deputy Marshal's conduct involved the deprivation of constitutional rights of Anderson or his son," Sullivan and Lincoln wrote. "It was Anderson's decisions and actions that led to his own death and the wounding of his own son."
Otte said the U.S. Marshals Internal Affairs Office, Washington, D.C., investigated the marshals involved. That office has not yet released its findings, he said.
Sullivan said there is nothing to preclude the Alaska Attorney General's office from filing charges in state court. If federal officers were named as defendants in such charges, they could have the case moved to federal court where it would be prosecuted by state prosecutors under Alaska law before a federal judge. The Attorney General's office did not return a call asking if it intended to pursue state charges.
Homer Police Chief Mark Robl and Homer City Manager Walt Wrede were not available for comment.
Michael Armstrong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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