Harry Smith, 59, died after he was shot at a home on the 9000 block of Noble Circle, where he was reportedly despondent and threatening to harm himself and others. The officers who shot him, Bryan Heinz and Michael Jones, were cleared of wrongdoing by the state’s Office of Special Prosecutions and Appeals.
Officers with grenade launchers fired two less-lethal munitions -- 40mm foam-tipped “sponge rounds” designed to knock down or incapacitate rather than kill -- at Smith. One missed, while the other hit Smith but had no effect.
When Smith raised the airgun and pointed it at an officer, Heinz and Jones brought up their service weapons and shot him a total of five times. Smith was subsequently taken to a local hospital with critical injuries and pronounced dead.
The Smith shooting, along with APD officer Boaz Gionson’s shooting of broomstick-armed man Shane Tasi in June and Alaska State Trooper Sgt. Paul Anthony Wegrzyn’s shooting of baseball bat-armed man Justin Lloyd Abrahamson, has sparked a debate on the use of deadly force by law enforcement. Some people at a July rally, organized by members of the Polynesian community after Tasi’s death, questioned APD’s policy regarding shootings in such incidents.
Statistics from the Federal Bureau of Investigation show a rise in assaults on law-enforcement officers in Alaska despite a nationwide decline, with 253 assaults against officers in 2007 versus 386 assaults against officers in 2010.
Channel 2’s Jason Lamb contributed to this report.