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Residents question use of deadly force

Juneau police contend officer was threatened

Posted: Monday, August 13, 2007

When witnesses saw Randall Clevenger assault a woman Friday night and heard him say he wanted to kill himself, they figured he would spend some time in jail.

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But after hearing the three police gunshots that killed Clevenger, resident Fred Oleson can't help but question how the incident unfolded.

"I don't see how they can justify the shooting," Oleson said. "The guy had a sword. They're equipped with Tasers and mace ... He didn't have to kill the guy."

Days after Juneau's first officer-involved homicide in years, many residents in the mobile home park where it happened remain disturbed and upset. Despite the reaction, Juneau police Sgt. Dave Campbell responded that "the only logical choice for the officer was to use his handgun."

The suspect screamed at the officer to kill him while he advanced on the officer with a samurai-style sword in his arms, Campbell said. The officer backed away until he was unable to back away more.

"Basically put, the officer was being threatened with deadly force, and we respond to deadly force with deadly force," Campbell said. "It would be absolutely inappropriate for the officer, when his life is jeopardized with a sword, to respond with a Taser or OC spray. There are numerous instances where people have used pepper spray or a Taser and the device has failed. So when an officer is being threatened with deadly force, you're not going to rely on something that can fail."

The police continued to withhold the name of the officer who shot Clevenger. He has been put on administrative leave.

Residents of Thunder Mountain Mobile Park - a neighborhood at the end of Thunder Mountain Road near the Mendenhall Glacier - became involved shortly after the incident started Friday evening. Oleson and his friends were watching a movie when the barking of a dog alerted them to the developing problem.

Clevenger, 40, was outside and locked in a confrontation with two women. He had a knife in his hand was holding a woman by her neck, telling her he would kill her, witnesses said.

Oleson walked off his porch and started approaching Clevenger.

"He pointed the knife at me and said to stay where I was," Oleson said. "He said he was going to take care of what he had to take care of and then he was going to kill himself."

Clevenger appeared to be distraught about a relationship, and Oleson said he seemed "intoxicated and very passionate about his feelings."

"He made a bad decision. But it wasn't worth three in the chest," Oleson said.

Clevenger ran away when he heard sirens, Oleson said. Law enforcement officers arrived on scene, and one officer started interviewing people in the vicinity of the assault. At the far end of the road in a wooded area, another officer located Clevenger.

"That's when we heard the shots," Oleson said. "It was bang, bang, bang."

"I just don't understand why the police officer didn't shoot him in the leg," he said.

Police are trained to shoot at "center mass," the center of the chest, not at arms or legs, Campbell said.

"He screamed at the top of his lungs for the officer to kill him," Campbell said, adding that the interaction between the officer and Clevenger was recorded on a tape recorder. The recording was not released to the public.

"It was a very dynamic, violent situation, and the officer tried to maintain distance," Campbell said. "He tried to extract himself. When the officer couldn't go any further, that's when he used his firearm."

• Contact Ken Lewis at 523-2263 or ken.lewis@juneauempire.com.



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