Trooper that shot man had history of aggression

Posted: Tuesday, February 18, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Several incidents have turned up in Arthur Jesse Osborn's past in a review conducted after the Alaska State Trooper shot and killed a disabled man on a highway turnout in January.

During his short time on the force, Osborn, 26, has tussled with a lost Japanese tourist. He frightened a neighborhood grocery store owner whose business had been burglarized. He pepper-sprayed a teen-ager in the back of a Bronco and wrestled a paraplegic into a headlock.

Several people whose encounters with Osborn went awry said the trooper escalated into violent confrontations that could have ended calmly.

''In Japan, such an unruly way never happens,'' said Kyouji Hiramatsu, 31. He was roughed up by Osborn in confusion over his passport, he said.

Osborn, a former lightweight wrestler from Seward, started in law enforcement as a corrections officer at the Spring Creek maximum security facility, home to Alaska's most dangerous felons. In March 2001, he joined the troopers. He is among a large group of young officers stepping in to replace veterans hired in the 1980s boom years and now retiring in waves.

On Jan. 4, Osborn was working the graveyard shift out of the Soldotna troopers post. He and trooper Joseph Whittom were called to check out a suspicious sedan parked in a pullout off the Sterling Highway.

Inside was Casey Porter, 30. Porter was disabled from a car crash in August and used a cane to work the clutch.

Osborn ordered Porter to show his hands and step out. When he didn't comply, Osborn blasted him with pepper spray, a nonlethal but painful weapon used by troopers to tame suspects.

Porter didn't surrender. Instead, his car moved forward, toward Whittom. Though Whittom's patrol car was between him and Porter's moving sedan, Osborn feared for the other officer's safety and fired his pistol five times at Porter, according to troopers. Three rounds hit Porter in the back and one in the shoulder. Porter died at the scene.

After three days of administrative leave and a fit-for-duty psychological assessment, both troopers were back on patrol. Osborn has since been transferred to the Palmer post.

Troopers said they could not discuss Osborn's record because of privacy concerns and the ongoing investigation into whether the shooting was justified.

Some people now accusing Osborn of rough treatment have criminal records. But that doesn't give police free rein, said Joe Ray Skrha, who represents numerous criminal defendants in Kenai.

''It's become a regular occurrence for clients to report excessive force on a regular basis by officer Osborn,'' Skrha said.

Officers aren't supposed to resort to force if people cooperate, said Maj. Doug Norris, deputy director of troopers. An officer who does use force repeatedly may simply be ''good aggressive,'' the first to respond to dangerous calls, gun calls, drunken fights, domestic disputes, Norris said.

If citizens have concerns about any trooper, they should bring them to troopers' attention, Norris said.

''I don't want to have a trooper that is abusing people or demeaning people or that makes people feel bad the way they talk to them,'' Norris said. ''We don't tolerate that.''

Troopers can't say whether it's unusual for one officer to generate so many concerns in such a short time or whether Osborn's record of force is atypical.

The most reports of force for an individual trooper in 2001, the latest year available, was 14. Many troopers report using no force at all. Those who do, use it an average of two to three instances a year.

Around the country, law enforcement agencies are investing in sophisticated systems to flag troublesome officers early on.

''Nothing is too much when you are trying to avoid serious problems that can result in death or injury to citizens,'' said Sam Walker, professor of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Aggression, high-speed pursuits, lawsuits, citizen complaints and other problems identify officers for review. Often, the officers are inexperienced and are receptive to retraining to calm their approach.

In Minneapolis, complaints against officers identified as potentially troublesome dropped 67 percent one year after the officers got help, according to a study by Walker and others.

But neither state troopers nor the Anchorage Police Department tracks officers with such an early-warning system.

From late 1991 through 2001, Alaska State Troopers reported using force more than 1,800 times. Those incidents were as minor as an officer's grabbing someone and as serious as a shooting. Officers fired their guns in 30 instances.

As to how many were excessive or unjustified, troopers don't track that, Norris said. Nor do they analyze whether some officers use force more than others working similar beats.

Trooper supervisors say each force incident and complaint is reviewed as it happens, and problems are dealt with right away, usually through additional training.

''Our department is so small those things are easy to follow,'' Norris said.

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