It appeared at first to be a gross overreaction by police.
Multiple Juneau Police Department vehicles surrounded a car fueling at the Safeway gas station Thursday afternoon, drew their guns at the car’s four occupants and ordered them to put their hands up — only to arrest just one person for a probation violation.
Why were members of the public, also pumping gas at the station and driving in the parking lot, placed at risk of being in the line of fire?
JPD originally told the Empire that officers performed what they refer to as a “high- risk stop” because the man arrested, 24-year-old Juneau resident Erick Dante Waters, had a prior felony conviction for second-degree robbery. The robbery took place five years ago when Waters was 18, and he hasn’t been charged with a violent crime since.
When questioned further on Friday about how the police handled the remand, JPD spokesman Lt. David Campbell admitted: “There was a lot more going on than just a probation violation.”
He said the Safeway stop was connected to the shooting that took place at the Switzer Village trailer park this past Sunday.
JPD didn’t release more information up front because police worried it would jeopardize their investigation, the police lieutenant said. The department issued a press release about the arrest late Friday afternoon.
“The question (the department faced internally) was we have this ongoing investigation that is kind of leading into all this, and is releasing the information that we have going to jeopardize the ongoing information?” Campbell said by phone after meeting with the police chief. “And the determination is no, we don’t think it is, so let’s go ahead and release more information.”
Campbell said JPD received a tip Thursday that the man who shot several rounds inside the trailer park Sunday, Sept. 13, had just gotten into a vehicle at Switzer.
Nobody was injured in that shooting and there wasn’t evidence of property damage, but police called the shooting “highly dangerous” since it took place in a residential area. Police recovered the firearms involved in the incident (they had been left behind), but the suspects eluded police.
Police saw two vehicles (neither was the vehicle later stopped at Safeway) leaving Switzer that Sunday after multiple Switzer residents reported hearing gunshots at 6 a.m. One vehicle was briefly stopped by a JPD officer on foot, but it drove away when the officer tried to speak with the driver. The second vehicle sped away and prompted a brief police chase. The vehicle crashed into a tree and two people ran off. A third man, a 26-year-old California resident, was detained and was taken to the hospital for a minor injury he suffered in the crash.
Fast-forward to Thursday. After JPD received a tip about the possible shooter getting into a vehicle, “a couple of JPD investigators” responded and began tailing the car, Campbell said. It drove, and police followed, to the Safeway gas station.
Campbell said the investigators, driving in unmarked vehicles, called for a marked JPD unit with lights and sirens to go to Safeway to perform a traffic stop on the vehicle. But before the marked units arrived, three of the car’s occupants got out of the vehicle, and investigators couldn’t see anybody in the driver’s seat.
“Maybe they were just stretching their legs, I don’t know,” Campbell said. “But from the investigators’ perspective, there’s nobody’s in the driver’s seat, we can see three of the four people’s bodies and we don’t want to get involved in a pursuit again. So as soon as the patrol car arrived, they did the stop and contacted them.”
All four of the vehicle’s occupants were handcuffed, placed in the backs of separate patrol vehicles and questioned by authorities about Sunday’s shooting.
One of the men, Erick Waters, was on probation. A police officer called Waters’ Juneau probation officer, who requested police remand him to Lemon Creek Correctional Center.
“There was enough going on that the probation officer said (Waters) being there at the time was a violation, so they remanded him,” Campbell said when asked what the violation was. “I don’t know what the specifics are.”
Of the three remaining men, police recognized and already knew the identity of one from the scene of the shooting: a 25-year-old from California.
The other two were new to JPD, and police only identified them to the public as a 24-year-old man from California and a 17-year-old boy from New Mexico.
Police believe they all played a role in the shooting, though none were arrested.
“They’re definitely involved in some fashion with the shooting and we’re still conducting our investigation to determine exactly what parts they played in it,” Campbell said.
One of the men from California told the Empire he was the victim of false identification.
“They got the wrong people,” he said while walking away in the parking lot with his mother. He added, “They thought they had the right people but they didn’t. We ain’t did nothing.”
When the Empire asked for his name and age, he said it was Jackie Brown and he was 27. The police later confirmed with the Empire that was not his real name or age.
Police said their investigation into the shooting is continuing.