Justice Department will not prosecute police officer in shooting

Posted: Sunday, June 10, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The federal Department of Justice has ruled there is not enough evidence to prosecute a Fairbanks police officer who shot to death a 22-year-old motorist at the end of a police chase.

Officer Perry Williamson shot Corwin Vent after an hour-long pursuit through Fairbanks streets on October 29.

The police department already had cleared Williamson. Chief James Welch said a few days after the shooting that Williamson was justified in shooting Vent, an Alaska Native whose family is from Huslia, because Vent placed both the public and officers at risk during the pursuit.

Police determined that Williamson fired when Vent drove a van into the officer after being told to stop.

Alaska Native organizations expressed outrage after the shooting and the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice announced in November it would investigate.

The Justice Department revealed its decision in a letter to Williamson received by the city last month.

The letter states that the ''evidence is not sufficient to establish a prosecutable violation of the federal criminal civil rights statues.''

The letter explained that the criminal section of the Civil Rights Division enforces violations such as ''the willful abuse of authority by public officials that deprives individuals of liberties and rights defined in the United States Constitution or federal law.''

The incident began on a Sunday afternoon when police attempted to stop Vent for reckless driving. The borrowed van Vent was driving reached speeds estimated from 65 to 85 mph before police stopped the chase, officers said.

Welch said at the time the department's policy is to abandon pursuit if it creates a hazardous condition.

Police resumed the chase after police dispatch received calls reporting the same van driving recklessly around Fairbanks -- running red lights and passing other vehicles on the right.

Williamson parked his car at an intersection to block traffic and stop the van. Instead, Vent drove slowly through two lanes of traffic, scraping a car beside him, according to a witness.

Police said Williamson tried several times to get Vent to stop, but the van continued to move slowly forward between two lanes of traffic. When the van's bumper touched Williamson's legs, the officer fired three rounds into the windshield, killing Vent.

District Attorney Harry Davis says he is waiting to see if the FBI collected additional information before he decides whether to prosecute Williamson at the state level.

''There's a strong indication that there isn't any additional information,'' Davis said.

Tanana Chiefs Conference counsel Chris Provost said the organization received a copy of the Department of Justice letter May 29. He said he is waiting for more information and for instruction from the four Native organizations who called for an independent inquiry.

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