It’s been more than eight months, but members of the Eyre family still aren’t sure what exactly they’re grieving. They still don’t know what happened in the woods near Fairbanks on Christmas Eve 2017.
They know that 20-year-old Cody Eyre, a Thunder Mountain High School graduate, was shot and killed as three Alaska State Troopers and two Fairbanks Police Department officers fired at him. They know, thanks to an independent pathology report by a renowned forensics expert, that the fatal shot was one to the back of Cody’s head.
They just don’t know why it happened, as the state has not released any body camera footage, police reports or investigative findings. The Eyre family’s lawyer Mark Choate said he is preparing to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the state in the next 30 days, alleging that the Troopers and FPD violated Eyre’s civil rights by killing him.
Choate expected it to take three or four months for the police department and state Office of Special Prosecutions to release information about the shooting.
“But eight months? It makes me nervous,” Choate said, “because as a society, what we want is for people to trust the police.”
Eyre’s sister Samantha Eyre-Harrison is serving as the family’s spokesperson and has repeated the story numerous times in online posts, a YouTube video and various interviews with media members. She lives in Juneau, working as a nurse at Bartlett Regional Hospital.
Eyre and his girlfriend had been fighting, his car wasn’t starting and the overall stress of the holidays was starting to get to him, the story begins. Late in the afternoon Christmas Eve, he decided to take a walk, his sister said, to try and clear his mind.
Eyre’s mother was worried with her clearly frustrated son choosing to go for a walk on a cold Fairbanks evening in late December, Eyre-Harrison said.
In a holster at his side, Eyre carried a .22 caliber pistol. He had been working with his father’s construction company in Delta Junction and in remote villages nearby, and usually had his gun with him. His family knew he carried it often, as many Alaskans do.
Eyre’s mother grew more worried and ended up calling the police, hoping they could calm Cody down, Eyre-Harrison said. Multiple cars showed up, carrying police and troopers. The officers walked with Cody down a road where the mother couldn’t see them, Eyre-Harrison said, and a little while later, a flurry of gunshots rang out.
According to the Troopers dispatch from the incident, Eyre “brandished his firearm toward law enforcement officers,” and three troopers and two FPD officers fired.
According to an autopsy done by Dr. Werner Spitz, Cody was shot 12 times. Ten of those bullets, Spitz found, hit Cody’s lower body. One bullet grazed his arm, the report states. The fatal shot, Spitz wrote, was a gunshot to the back of Cody’s head.
“But for the shot in the head, Cody Eyre would not have died,” Spitz wrote.
Choate and the Eyre family shared the pathology report with the Empire. None of the shots were taken at close range, Spitz noted, and it appeared Cody was upright when the shot to the head was fired. The head wound was about four inches behind the left ear, Spitz wrote.
Spitz is a renowned forensic pathologist, having worked on high-profile cases from the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. to the 2011 trial of Casey Anthony. The family sent Cody’s body to Spitz earlier this year after the state conducted its pathology report and released the body to the family. Cody was later cremated, Eyre-Harrison said.
Spitz’s findings are basically all the family has, Choate said, as the state has continued to hold onto its pathology report, police video and all other important documents relating to the case.
“That’s just really unfair that one side would have access to everything and the other side would have access to nothing,” Eyre-Harrison said. “It doesn’t promote a very good sense of justice.”
The Office of Special Prosecutions handles the investigation at this point. John Skidmore, the director of the Alaska Department of Law, wouldn’t comment on the specifics of the case, as the investigation is still open.
Skidmore said a number of factors could hold up an investigation. He said the more people involved in an incident, the more interviews they have to do and the more time it takes. Much of the investigation, he said, depends on the local agency. Skidmore said that for smaller agencies (anything but the Troopers and Anchorage Police Department), their low staffing totals tend to slow the process down.
What OSPA does, Skidmore said, is review a department’s internal investigation and determine whether an officer committed a crime under Alaska statutes. The office has handed down charges to some officers over the years for excessive force, he said, but Skidmore said none of those were shooting-related.
“Having reviewed the review of others in the department, we have not seen any situations in which we thought that our officers here in Alaska had violated the law or had engaged in criminal conduct in the course of a shooting,” Skidmore said.
Earlier this year, the Eyre family was invited to attend an event for an organization started by Trayvon Martin’s mother Sybrina Fulton called Circle of Mothers in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. There, the Eyres talked with other families who have lost family members to gun violence and compared experiences.
There were a variety of common themes that emerged, Eyre-Harrison said. Other families who had gone through litigation with state agencies said that families rarely win, and even when they do, the state’s penalty usually comes from taxpayer money instead of punishing the departments themselves.
“It doesn’t really do much to promote change, because there are no repercussions or incentive to change their policies or do different trainings,” Eyre-Harrison said. “Even if a family wins a lawsuit, a lot of times that isn’t enough to motivate change.”
Still, Choate said he hopes that filing a lawsuit will at least get the state to release the information it has and to provide the family with some answers. Choate, who usually has a full slate of cases, said he took this one on because not only is it a local family, but this is such a relatable situation — it was just a person having a bad day, and he ended up dying.
Even though the incident didn’t take place in Juneau, Choate said, it’s important for residents around the state of under 740,000 people to look out for one another.
“In Alaska, because this is really such a small state in terms of our population, holding people accountable is more important because it really is our own community,” Choate said.
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.