Investigation into fatal shooting by officer released

Posted: Sunday, March 23, 2008

Juneau police have released a report detailing an internal investigation into the fatal shooting of 40-year-old Randall Clevenger by police Sgt. Paul Hatch last August in the Thunder Mountain Trailer Park.

Police said it was the first killing by a Juneau officer in more than 30 years.

The report, completed by investigator Lt. Kris Sell, agreed with a previous conclusion by the Juneau District Attorney's Office that Hatch used deadly force appropriately in response to Clevenger, who threatened the officer with a three-foot-long samurai sword.

Investigation results largely support information released to the media at the time of the shooting, with one exception. In the days following the shooting Juneau Police Chief Greg Browning said no one actually saw Hatch pull the trigger.

Two weeks after the shooting, Juneau resident Steve Woods told police he witnessed Hatch firing his gun, according to the report. Woods' home overlooked the lot where Clevenger was shot.

On Aug. 14, four days after the shooting, Juneau District Attorney Doug Gardner concluded that Hatch justifiably used deadly force when he killed Clevenger. Gardner's conclusion ended the criminal investigation. Police department policy requires an internal review when deadly force is used.

Gardner made his decision 10 days before Woods claimed to have witnessed the shooting.

At 7:31 p.m., Aug. 10, in the first of three 911 calls, a passerby reported Clevenger held a knife to the torso of his ex-girlfriend, Warna Bigler, while threatening to kill her and himself during a passionate argument in the street. The witness told police Clevenger knew he would go to jail and was "definitely suicidal."

Before ending the call three minutes later, the witness told police Clevenger left the scene disarmed by a small pregnant woman, Tina Doak, who stepped between the two and insisted Clevenger put down his knife, according to the report.

Witnesses said Clevenger had been drinking and using cocaine and was distraught over losing his children's phone number. The dispute with his victim covered several blocks and much of it happened in public view.

Eleven minutes later, Hatch shot Clevenger three times in the chest as he held the sword "back like he was going to slice," said Hatch, the officer. Clevenger had called out for Hatch to kill him 14 times as he advanced at the lone officer on a wooded trail behind the trailer park.

According to records, Hatch told Clevenger to put the sword down 17 times while Hatch backed up 56 feet before stumbling on a root ball and began shooting from a kneeling position, the report detailed.

"He got within 10 feet of me and he would not stop walking. He said, 'Shoot me,'" Hatch told fellow officers conducting the investigation. "I did. I shot him three times."

A paramedic on the scene said Clevenger was shot through the heart.

Clevenger had a long history of violent threats, including threatening to cut his ex-wife's throat with a sword in 1995, but he had no record of acting out the threats.

Juneau police procedure requires a minimum of two officers to respond to a domestic call. Interviews in the report say Officer Chris Gifford was en route to the wooded lot at the end of Valley Boulevard when Clevenger was shot. Two other officers were dealing with Clevenger's ex-girlfriend and the pregnant woman.

Sometime in the minutes before Hatch and Gifford arrived on the scene, Clevenger, for a moment unarmed, had traveled several blocks to the home he shared with his victim, grabbed a sword and stepped into the nearby woods where Hatch soon found him, according to the report.

Hatch told fellow officers his gun was pointed at Clevenger's knees as he told him to drop the sword but Clevenger just kept coming. Police said that Hatch was cornered and waited until Clevenger was almost upon him to begin shooting.

One month after the incident, Hatch told investigator Sell that a family member had enhanced a field recording in which Clevenger could be heard asking Hatch to kill him. Police said the enhanced version had Clevenger's final words were, "kill me or I'm killing you," the report said.

Hatch began CPR almost immediately after shooting Clevenger.

Fourteen days later, Woods, the witness, told police he saw Hatch fire his weapon that day, but that he didn't see Hatch kneeling or backing up when the shooting began. From a second-story deck, with no trees obstructing a view across 250 yards, Woods said he did not see Clevenger at all.

"His gun was up and then I heard the shots and he bent over," Woods said in the report. "I should have been able to see the guy if he was only five feet away from Hatch when he was shot. I'm not saying that Hatch is lying about backing up or where the guy was. I just didn't see that."

At the time of the incident, Woods assumed Hatch had shot a bear, Woods told investigators.

While interviewing Woods, police offered that he might not have seen all the action because of distance and perspective.

Thursday, Sell said the medical examiner's findings from bullet paths in Clevenger's body were consistent with Hatch shooting while kneeling and continuing to shoot as he moved to stand.

In a subsequent August interview, Woods told police that the location in which he originally saw Hatch and the location where he saw Hatch doing CPR were not consistent. Thinking Hatch shot a bear, Woods ran over to help and then saw Clevenger as Hatch performed CPR.

"Hatch must have dragged the man [Clevenger] down the trail after he shot him, to the position I eventually saw him in," Woods said.

Thursday, Gardner said that his Aug. 14 conclusion would not have changed if he had known about the witness. Gardner said the statements by Woods, who saw a "portion of the incident," did not change the facts or his legal conclusion.

"I didn't find him persuasive," Gardner said. "All of the physical evidence was consistent with what Officer Hatch said."

Since the shooting, Woods sold his home and moved to Anchorage, according to the report.

His number is unlisted and he was unreachable for comment. In the week following the shooting Woods twice declined to comment on what he saw that day.

In the end, Sell's investigatory conclusion found Hatch acted according to his training and the law in the face of a threat.

Last week, Chief Browning said no changes in training or police procedure were made following the investigation. Browning said last August it was possible that Clevenger committed "suicide by cop," but no training has been added in the department for this phenomenon.

Multiple witnesses, including the initial 911 caller, said Clevenger was suicidal and threatened to kill himself that day.

Browning said the department drew no conclusion on the suicide possibility.

Only Clevenger knows, he said.

• Contact Reporter Greg Skinner at 523-2258 or greg.skinner@juneauempire.com.



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