State investigators have cleared Juneau Police Department Sgt. Chris Gifford of any wrongdoing in the shooting of a 38-year-old Juneau resident last month.
According to a report issued Thursday by Assistant Attorney General June Stein, with the state of Alaska Office of Special Prosecutions, Gifford fired at Jeremie Shaun Tinney because he believed him to be armed with a long rifle.
That object, which Tinney reportedly was holding in a shooting position, proved to be a “rifle-bored” axle that he grabbed from the back of the SUV he was in.
Gifford and fellow officer Darin Schultz had been on administrative leave following the incident, Juneau’s first officer-involved shooting in nine years.
Schultz, who did not fire his weapon, returned to full duty shortly after the Dec. 3 shooting, Juneau Police Chief Bryce Johnson said. Gifford returned to desk duty several weeks ago and now that he has been cleared, will start back on full duty in the next few days.
Johnson released the nine-page letter from the state of Alaska Office of Special Prosecutions, which reviews every police-involved shooting in Alaska.
“The investigation revealed that Sgt. Gifford fired one bullet, after being threatened with what he believed to be a firearm,” the report reads. “Tinney was treated for non-life-threatening injuries and was released from the hospital.”
“I have concluded that Sgt. Gifford was legally justified in using deadly force,” the report by Stein continues.
The bulk of the nine-page report then details the sequence of events that led to the shooting, as well as interviews with Gifford and Schultz.
At a press conference Friday, Johnson provided a detailed explanation of the chain of events, as well as video and audio clips.
Johnson said the press conference, which was live-streamed on Facbeook, was part of an effort to be transparent, and thanked the community for being patient and not speculating on what might have happened.
Juneau Mayor Ken Koelsch also spoke at the press conference, commending the police department for “entering into a full and transparent investigation.”
“We’re fortunate to live in a community where such incidents are few and far between,” he said, adding that he has full confidence in the department and its officers.
Both Gifford and Schultz “acted heroically,” Johnson said, adding that Gifford did what he was trained to do, and what he was expected to do, when he fired at Tinney. Gifford has been with the department for more than 16 years.
Timeline of events
Chief Johnson went through the approximately 23 minutes between the time Gifford first arrived at the scene and the time at which he fired at Tinney.
JPD officers were dispatched to Ocean View Drive after two 911 calls at about 4 a.m. The first reported a motor vehicle accident with the driver injured. The second call reported the passenger was seeking help, with an SUV in a ditch.
Gifford arrived first on the scene at 4:12 a.m. and spoke to a neighbor; Schultz arrived two minutes later, Johnson said. Tinney, the driver, was reported by the neighbor to be unresponsive and possibly unconscious. An ambulance was called.
Schultz is heard on audio telling a dispatcher that the SUV appears to be one that was involved in an earlier pursuit, and that he believed the driver was Tinney — who reportedly had threatened to shoot officers in the past. That information was confirmed after Gifford obtained the license plate number, Johnson said.
Gifford then tried to wake Tinney, who had been slumped to the side in the SUV, which was resting at a 45-degree angle. Tinney moved to reach into the center console in what was perceived as a possible reach for a weapon, Johnson said.
Gifford “backed off,” Johnson said, then drew his weapon and climbed up the embankment as Tinney made “finger-gun” motions at him. A fire truck with floodlights was requested about 4:27 a.m. to better illuminate the SUV.
At 4:34 a.m., Tinney crawled into the back of the SUV and could be seen retrieving a long object, Johnson said. In response, Gifford and Schultz armed themselves with their patrol rifles and positioned themselves defensively behind Schultz’s patrol vehicle.
Both officers saw what they believed to be a piece of wood in Tinney’s hands, which later proved to be a vacuum handle, Johnson said.
Tinney then picked up a second object, which the officers thought was the barrel of a long rifle. Tinney pointed the object at Schulz, then began sweeping it back and forth, Johnson said, mimicking the motions of a man holding a weapon in a shooting position.
Tinney continued to point the object between Gifford and Schultz, who was standing next to a paramedic. According to Johnson, Schultz pushed the paramedic back, fully believing that Tinney was pointing a rifle at them.
Tinney ignored two verbal commands to put it down, Johnson said.
Gifford also saw Tinney point what he thought was a rifle at Schultz and the paramedic, then swing it his way.
“He believed he was going to be shot,” Johnson said.
At 4:35 a.m., Gifford fired one round, which went through the middle window and a head rest.
Johnson stressed that the bullet did not penetrate Tinney’s body and that his wounds were all caused by glass and shrapnel. Tinney eventually climbed out of the SUV and up the embankment, where he was taken into custody.
During the press conference, Johnson also played several video clips from the scene, including dash-cam footage and a cellphone video recorded by the neighbor, as well as an audio recording.
“What the hell does he have?” an officer can be heard asking, with the other responding, “It looks like a barrel.” The officers can also be heard yelling at Tinney to put it down.
The item that the officers thought was a rifle barrel was, in fact, a rifle-bored — or gun-drilled — axle shaft assembly, Johnson said.
The police chief provided several photos of the 3-and-a-half foot-long axle, including one of the tip head-on.
“I look at that, I think that’s a rifle barrel,” Johnson said of the photo.
What now for Tinney?
Johnson said Tinney could face charges, which would be forwarded to the District Attorney’s office. He declined to be more specific, saying there was an open investigation. DA James Scott concurred, saying it was much too early to confirm whether charges would be filed and extradition efforts made.
Tinney currently is facing charges in Washington, which stem from an outstanding warrant related to a 1997 felony conviction for abusing his 2-year-old son.
Tinney had been wanted by Washington state since 2005 for failing to abide by the terms of his probation in that case.
After pleading guilty to a felony count of child abuse, Tinney was ordered to stay away from his son. According to Washington state court records, he moved to Ketchikan and continued living with the boy.
A warrant was issued for his arrest, and in 2005, he was taken into custody in Washington, then released after 39 days in jail.
When he again failed to follow his conditions of release, another warrant was issued for his arrest.
Whatcom County prosecutors have asked for an increase in his bail, and a hearing has been set for Jan. 11.
Locally, JPD had investigated 26 incidents in which Tinney “was associated with guns, suicide, threats, and/or domestic violence” between 2009 and 2015, according to the state report.