D.A. says use of deadly force was justified

Investigators find Sgt. Paul Hatch had no other options

Posted: Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A Juneau police officer was justified when he killed an assault suspect wielding a sword last weekend, according to District Attorney Doug Gardner.

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Investigators determined that Sgt. Paul Hatch, a 16-year veteran of the Juneau Police Department, was confronted with deadly force when Randall Clevenger advanced on him with a samurai-style sword Friday evening.

Hatch, 37, retreated for nearly 60 feet as Clevenger approached him in a wooded area in Thunder Mountain Mobile Park. Clevenger, 40, who had been holding a knife to a woman's neck minutes earlier, screamed at the officer to kill him.

"Without any other options, and being essentially trapped between Mr. Clevenger and an abandoned truck, Sgt. Hatch continued to try and defuse the advancing and armed Mr. Clevenger," Gardner wrote. "When Sgt. Hatch shot Mr. Clevenger, he was out of options and was facing almost certain serious physical injury or death."

Hatch shot Clevenger three times from a distance of five feet. He tried to resuscitate Clevenger, but the man died at the scene.

Hatch has been on administrative leave since the incident but will return to work on Friday, Police Chief Greg Browning said. Hatch will not be available for comment while on leave.

"He's coming back to duty, and I have full confidence in his abilities," Browning said.

"This is hard on an officer, and they need some time to decompress," he added.

Hatch worked as a field sergeant, overseeing a team of four officers on 10-hour shifts. Considered the department's "radar guru," the lifelong Juneau resident was promoted to sergeant in May 2006. He has extensive experience in patrol and investigations and has 27 commendations in his file.

Browning said a union contract and department policy forbids him to address any officer's past reprimands or even confirm or deny that there are any in an officer's file.

Among his commendations, Hatch received the Juneau Police Department Outstanding Service Medal in 2001 for voluntarily maintaining radar equipment and training staff in how to use it. He won the Child Advocacy Center's Investigator of the Year Award in 2005 for his work with children.

During the investigation of the homicide, Gardner met with Browning and Lt. Kris Sell and toured the scene of the shooting. The investigators listened to a field recording of the contact between Hatch and Clevenger, interviewed Hatch and reviewed an interview conducted by Sell.

In a phone interview on Tuesday, Gardner said it is typical of police departments across the state to request that a district attorney's office review the facts in such cases.

After reviewing the evidence, Gardner wrote "it is clear, beyond any reasonable doubt, that Sgt. Hatch was threatened with deadly force" by Clevenger. The four-foot, double-sided sword wielded by Clevenger met the state definition of a deadly weapon, he wrote.

"When confronted with deadly force, a person may use deadly force to respond, depending on the circumstances. In the case of a peace officer, acting within the scope of the officer's employment, the officer does not have a duty to retreat before using deadly force."

"Sgt. Hatch went beyond what Alaska law required of him in terms of retreating as a police officer. The shooting of Mr. Clevenger, under these circumstances, was a justifiable use of deadly force," Gardner wrote.

The case has been an "emotional issue" for the police department and the officer, Browning said.

"We consider ourselves kind of a family, and we try to support each other, while realizing we have the responsibility to make sure the investigation is taken care of," he said.

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

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