A year ago, Linda Downs spent part of her Christmas Eve in a Fairbanks hospital. This year, she’ll be spending part of her Christmas Eve on the steps of the Alaska Capitol.
Downs’ grandson Cody Eyre was shot and killed by Fairbanks Police Department officers and Alaska State Troopers on Dec. 24, 2017. Downs, who lives in Juneau, was in Fairbanks when it happened and was in the hospital with Eyre as he died.
“It was extremely unreal,” Downs said. “It certainly was the last thing anyone would ever think, that you’re going to be losing your grandson on Christmas Eve.”
Downs is leading a protest from 6-7 p.m. tonight on the steps of the Capitol, advocating for authorities to release evidence from the shooting and for the state to require law enforcement to go through more crisis intervention training.
Eyre, a Thunder Mountain High School graduate, was having a mental health crisis and took a walk to clear his mind that night, his family members have explained in interviews and online. Authorities got a call from a Facebook friend of Eyre’s saying that Eyre said on a Facebook Live video that he was contemplating suicide. Eyre’s mother also called police to say she was concerned about her son.
Eyre, 20, was armed, was acting erratic and gestured his gun toward officers, according to a joint press release earlier this year from the FPD and Troopers. The officers fired more than 40 times at Eyre, and Eyre suffered 23 wounds, according to a report from Chief Assistant Attorney General Paul J. Miovas, Jr. The fatal wound was to the back of Eyre’s head, the report stated.
Members of Eyre’s family have been vocal about their belief that the situation could have been handled better.
“I’ve always had a strong respect and appreciation for the police and I, of course, still do and I’m glad they’re out there for our wellbeing and safety,” Downs said, “but I don’t think Cody’s wellbeing was taken care of that night. I think that they could have done a lot better crisis intervention. That could have saved his life. We could still have him with us today.”
That belief gets to the heart of the Christmas Eve rally at the Capitol. With better training for crisis intervention, the family members believe, other families can be saved from losing their loved ones in the same fashion.
Downs said the rally is also meant to shed light on another large issue: violence against Alaska Natives. Downs is Inupiaq, as was Eyre. Downs used to work as a nurse at the Alaska Native Medical Center and also spent more than 20 years working for Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska.
Eyre’s sister Samantha Eyre-Harrison organized two simultaneous events for the evening. As Downs leads the rally in Juneau, Eyre-Harrison and other members of the family will be in Fairbanks, walking the same path Eyre took on the night of his death.
Their four-mile walk, part of which is also open to members of the public to join, will culminate with a candlelight vigil at the place where Eyre was shot.
One of the goals of the demonstrations is to encourage the state to release all of the evidence from the shooting. So far, Eyre-Harrison said, the family hasn’t gotten access to the police report or the full body camera footage. The only evidence that’s been released is an edited portion of the footage, she said.
Through Juneau attorney Mark Choate, the family has prepared to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the state alleging that the state violated Eyre’s civil rights by killing him. Choate has said that it usually takes a few months for authorities to release evidence but having it take this long is unusual and concerning.
Eyre-Harrison said the family hasn’t yet filed a lawsuit because they would like to see the evidence first so they aren’t just aimlessly pursuing legal action. Getting that evidence, she said, is the next step.
Eyre-Harrison said she knows it’s difficult timing for members of the public to come out to these events with it being Christmas Eve, but she hopes people can make it.
“My family’s starting a new Christmas Eve tradition,” Eyre-Harrison said, “and that’s fighting for Cody and fighting for what’s right and advocating for him.”
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.