Kelly Michael Stephens, pictured here in 2007, was shot and killed during an encounter with a Juneau Police Department officer on Dec. 29, 2019. The family is filing a wrongful death suit against the JPD, the City and Borough of Juneau, and the officer involved in the shooting. (Courtesy photo / Ben Crittenden)

Kelly Michael Stephens, pictured here in 2007, was shot and killed during an encounter with a Juneau Police Department officer on Dec. 29, 2019. The family is filing a wrongful death suit against the JPD, the City and Borough of Juneau, and the officer involved in the shooting. (Courtesy photo / Ben Crittenden)

Lawsuit against JPD officer involved in fatal shooting dismissed

The lawsuit, announced in July, was dismissed, resolving the case.

This story has been updated to include additional information.

A lawsuit against the City and Borough of Juneau, Juneau Police Department Chief Ed Mercer and JPD Officer James Esbenshade for a late 2019 fatal shooting was dismissed on Dec. 4.

“Every day we ask our police officers to navigate extremely difficult situations and, infrequently, an officer will find themselves in a situation where they use their service weapon,” said CBJ City Manager Rorie Watt in a news release. “Last December, I asked the community to be patient, and to let the external reviews, internal reviews and the independent judiciary handle this matter. Those processes have all concluded. I thank the community for its patience.”

The lawsuit concerned the shooting of Kelly Michael Stephens, 34, on Dec. 29, 2019 by Esbenshade during an evening confrontation on Cinema Drive. Esbenshade shot Stephens once after repeatedly ordering him to stop while attempting to retreat. Stephens was pronounced dead at the scene.

Esbenshade was cleared by the state Office of Special Prosecutions in March of 2020, but the family of Stephens, represented by attorney Ben Crittenden, an Anchorage lawyer, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against CBJ, Mercer and Esbenshade on July 1, 2020.

“Now, the joint stipulation dismisses the case with prejudice, which means the case is completely resolved,” the city said in a news release. “There is no settlement agreement, no exchange of money, and no liability on any of the defendants. Each party is responsible for its own costs.”

The lawsuit had been a straightforward experience once it had been served, said CBJ city attorney Robert Palmer in an email. The dismissal means that the plaintiff cannot revive this or a similar case, Palmer said.

Watt, CBJ, and the JPD continue to extend their condolences to friends and family of Stephens over the tragic event, the city said.

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at (757) 621-1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.

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