The Alaska Office of Special Prosecutions announced it will not file criminal charges against a Juneau Police Department officer involved in a fatal shooting in December.
The shooting, wherein Office James Esbenshade of the JPD fatally shot Kelly Stephens, 34, during an emergency call on Dec. 29, 2019, was investigated and closed in March. Esbenshade was cleared.
Attorneys representing Stephens’ family have since called for the reopening of the case and announced plans to sue City and Borough of Juneau, Esbenshade and Juneau Police Department. The attorneys cited video they said showed Esbenshade contemplating a violent encounter with Stephens while talking to himself as a reason to reopen the case.
“The statements in the video released to the media by the family’s attorney do not represent a premeditated plan to find and kill Mr. Stephens,” said the Department of Law in a statement. “When Officer Esbenshade responded to a report of a gunshot at the Chinook Apartments, he had no reason to believe that Mr. Stephens was involved in that incident.”
Esbenshade’s actions were as restrained as possible in the circumstances, Department of Law said, attempting to back off and deescalate as Stephens advanced on Esbenshade while yelling threats and swinging a rope and chain.
“It was not until after retreating for a full twenty seconds, while Mr. Stephens was yelling that he was going to kill the officer, that Officer Esbenshade fired a single shot at Mr. Stephens,” Department of Law said. “These actions, as recorded on the video and as described by an independent eye-witness, are not consistent with Officer Esbenshade having a premeditated plan to find and kill Mr. Stephens.”
The comments made by Esbenshade are being viewed as verbalizations of how Esbenshade would have dealt with a situation such as what had happened in the parking lot of Super Bear IGA on a prior call, according to Department of Law. The suspect in that call, which Esbenshade also responded to, was later identified as Stephens. The suspect was threatening shoppers in the store’s parking lot with a chain, according to police.
The law offices of Ben Crittenden, which are representing the Stephens family in this case, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Department of Law said that efforts to meet with the Stephens family had been unsuccessful, as the family declined to meet members of the OSP to discuss the investigation.
• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or firstname.lastname@example.org.