As the second anniversary of the killing of a Juneau man in Fairbanks by law enforcement looms, the family has filed a civil suit alleging a wrongful death against the agencies involved.
“We’re hoping this is one step in the direction in preventing this from happening again,” said Samantha Eyre-Harrison, sister of Cody Eyre, who was shot 23 times on Dec. 25, 2017. “It happened to Cody and it’s happened to a couple people since Cody.”
The family will commemorate the killing this Christmas Eve by retracing his final steps, and invites the public to join them for the last mile to the spot where Eyre was gunned down. A vigil and a short rally will take place at the memorial site. Following that, the family plans to hold a celebration at a Fairbanks tribal hall with music and a brief prayer service led by a local minister.
“It’s not just our family, but somewhere other families who have lost a loved one to an officer-related shootings in Fairbanks can come,” Eyre-Harrison said. “We don’t make this event political, just very festive and cheerful and a nice place to bring our family on Christmas Eve.”
‘They sent a SWAT team’
Eyre, from an Alaska Native family, had recently been separated from the Air Force National Guard, and had broken up with his girlfriend the night he died. Eyre-Harrison said her brother was overwrought and went for a walk to help clear his head and calm down. He took along a .22 revolver with a single round in the cylinder, a fact officials were aware of, according to the review of the shooting by the Alaska Office of Special Prosecution. His mother, worried he might commit self-harm, called the police to seek their assistance intervening.
“My parents have never had to call on one of their kids before,” Eyre-Harrison said. “My mom really thought the smart call was to call the police and get someone who’s trained on crisis intervention and suicide intervention, and instead they sent a SWAT team.”
Three Alaska State Troopers and two Fairbanks Police Department officers responded to the call. The police shadowed him for more than 10 minutes, attempting to de-escalate the situation, even as Eyre attempted to keep his space and told them repeatedly that he intended to kill himself. Camera footage bears out a count of more than 74 attempts by officers to get Eyre to put the gun down.
Eventually, as Eyre told them all “you guys can —ing die right now, I don’t give a — ,” the officers opened fire, according to the investigation report. The officers were some distance from Eyre when they opened fire, one can see on the video of the incident.
“They shot at him over 40 times and he never even fired his weapon,” Eyre-Harrison said. “There were homes 200 yards away that the cops managed to shoot.”
The report states Trooper Elondre Johnson fired two shotgun shells. Trooper Christine Joslin fired five rifle rounds. Trooper James Thomas reported firing 4-6 rounds from his rifle, but no casings were recovered, according to the investigation report. FPD officer Richard Sweet fired seven rounds. Officer Tyler Larimer fired 28 rounds in two volleys, emptying his entire magazine. The source of the shot that killed Eyre is unknown. He died with his weapon unfired.
“One officer fired his gun 28 times, and one officer didn’t shoot his gun at all,” Eyre-Harrison said. “When he was killed, he was shot from behind. He couldn’t have been pointing his gun at the officer who killed him.”
This isn’t Larimer’s first time involved in an officer-involved shooting. He’s been involved in at least three officer-involved shootings since joining the Fairbanks Police Department in 2016. All have resulted in fatalities for the suspects. Alaska is the second-highest state in the country for the rate of officer-involved shootings in 2019.
Fairbanks has had a number of fatal officer-involved shootings in recent years, most recently 25-year-old Kevin Ray McEnulty, shot and killed in Fairbanks on April 1, 2019.
A positive change
Eyre-Harrison said that the suit for the wrongful death of her brother is just on part of work to help highlight the spate of officer-involved shootings in Alaska. Alaska is state with the second-highest rate of fatal officer-involved shootings in America, at a rate of 8.14 deadly shootings per million citizens, narrowly trailing Oklahoma. Native Americans, including Alaska Natives, are the minority most likely to be killed by law enforcement officials in the country, leading even African-Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“After this experience, losing my brother, I am very passionate about how we solve the high rate of officer related shootings of minorities and Alaska Native people,” Eyre-Harrison said.
Eyre-Harrison, who took part in the Arctic Leaders’ Youth Summit in Rovaniemi, Finland in November, presented there on the mental health crisis in the Alaska Native community. Someone with a mental illness is 16 times more likely to be killed by law enforcement officials, according to the Treatment Advocacy Center, a nonprofit dedicated eliminating barriers for treatment of mental illness.
“I think we need to move to a system where there’s independent and external investigations of cases where officers could be a perpetrator of a crime,” Eyre-Harrison said. “That’s kind of crazy but that’s actually the system that’s in place right now.”
Currently, police shootings in the state are investigated by the Office of Special Prosecutions, part of the Alaska Department of Law, and officer-involved shootings are almost always cleared after an investigation.
“I feel like it’s really important that the people who’ve been affected by the issue have a seat at the table for fixing it,” Eyre-Harrison said. “We’re doing a lot of work with legislators to pass a law to make crisis intervention training mandatory and more robust.”
But even if change does happen, the Eyres will still be walking four miles on Christmas Eve to commemorate their son.
• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or firstname.lastname@example.org.