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Troopers tried negotiation, pepper powder in fatal standoff in Kotzebue

Posted: June 19, 2012 - 12:03am

ANCHORAGE — Alaska State Troopers who responded after a shootout in Kotzebue left two of their own wounded used only nonlethal rounds as a standoff with the suspect unfolded over nearly nine hours in the northwest Alaska community.

Law officers Sunday night eventually found 50-year-old Arvid Nelson Jr. dead in the pickup, where he apparently shot himself.

One officer was grazed by a bullet or a ricochet, but the other was seriously injured. Their names have not been released. The more seriously injured officer was flown to Anchorage and his condition was reported Monday as stable.

Kotzebue is 550 miles northwest of Anchorage and a regional hub for Inupiat Eskimo villages in the region.

The incident Sunday began when Kotzebue police took a report of shots fired at a passing patrol car. Troopers said their initial report was that a man in a pickup had brandished a weapon.

The suspect had crashed the pickup into a guardrail on Ted Stevens Way between two bridges crossing a lagoon.

City Attorney Joe Evans was eating breakfast with Kotzebue Police Chief Craig Moates when the call came in and accompanied Moates to the scene.

Evans watched as two or three officers on foot approached the pickup, shielded by the open front doors of a patrol car.

As the patrol car inched its way to the truck, the suspect fired from about 15 yards away, knocking one officer to the ground. The two troopers returned fire. A spokeswoman, Beth Ipsen, said Sunday the officers did not know whether the suspect had been hit.

The seriously wounded trooper was pulled into the patrol car and it backed away.

Officers on the scene summoned help from Anchorage.

Troopers Capt. Barry Wilson said a trooper’s job is to protect the life and property of everyone, “whether it’s a private citizen, whether it’s a victim, whether it’s a suspect.”

“We’re not judge and juror,” Wilson said. When troopers come under fire, “we’re going to take the efforts and the measures we have to take to defend ourselves and those around us” from the attack.

“In this case, obviously, we were shot at, we returned fire,” he said. “But then it became our job to try to talk him out of what he was doing.”

In a prepared statement Monday, troopers said five members of the Southcentral Special Emergency Reaction Team reached Kotzebue just after 2 p.m. on a chartered flight. The members are similar to a SWAT team, troopers said, and trained to save lives.

A crisis negotiator attempted to contact the suspect but received no response.

Troopers on the reaction team fired pepper powder rounds through the truck windows. They detected no movement inside the truck during either effort.

Troopers also fired bean bag rounds at the truck windows to break them out so they could see inside.

“All of the munitions that were launched at the vehicle were less lethal and were done so in an effort to get him to surrender without injury to him or anyone else,” troopers said in their prepared statement.

Troopers at 6 p.m. approached the truck and found Nelson dead inside.

His body was to be flown to the state medical examiner in Anchorage for an autopsy. Four investigators and a crime scene technician were on the scene Monday, troopers said.

Troopers said names of the injured officers would not be released for 72 hours because they had fired their weapons.

The nearby Kotzebue airport was shut down to non-emergency traffic during the standoff.

Wilson said anyone who took photos or video of the standoff is asked to call troopers’ headquarters in Anchorage, 907-269-5611.

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