In a July 30 letter (PDF) from the state’s Office of Special Prosecutions and Appeals to APD detective Mark Huelskoetter, supervising assistant attorney general Clint Campion explained the office’s decision not to prosecute officers involved in Smith’s shooting.
According to Campion, the three APD officers whose involvement in Smith’s death he reviewed -- Sgt. Jack Carson, as well as Officers Michael Jones and Brian Heinz -- were swing-shift members sent to Smith’s home at 9000 Noble Circle shortly after 7:50 p.m.
“They were dispatched after Harry Smith’s son, Russell Smith, called 911 to report his father was threatening to ‘kill everyone in the house’ and threatening to commit suicide,” Campion wrote. “Even though Anchorage Police had been dispatched to this residence previously, none of the three above-mentioned officers had been previously dispatched there.”
Campion says the on-scene supervisor, Sgt. Michael Kerle, deployed three teams of officers: one which was sent inside Smith’s home to clear the residence, a second which was sent to its back yard, and a third which was sent to the back yard of a neighboring home at 9010 Noble Circle.
Carson and Jones were in the second team alongside K-9 officer Lars Tulip, with Carson carrying a 40-millimeter riot gun loaded with less-than-lethal foam-tipped “sponge rounds” meant to incapacitate a suspect, while Jones was carrying a shotgun loaded with buckshot to provide “lethal cover” for Carson if the riot gun wasn’t effective. Heinz, with the third team, was also armed with a shotgun to protect another officer carrying a less-than-lethal weapon.
Campion noted that officers initially didn’t know whether Smith was armed, due to conflicting statements Russell Smith had made during his 911 call.
“Russell Smith previously informed the 911 dispatcher that he (Russell) had secured all of the firearms in the basement, away from his father,” Campion wrote. “However, Russell informed the 911 dispatcher that his father had been ‘Tazed’ before and was ‘likely to fight.’ Russell informed the 911 dispatcher that his father had a ‘weapon’ and that officers would have to ‘come in and fight him’ and his father told him (Russell) that he ‘was going out with a gun in his hand to take care of everything.’ Russell did not inform the 911 dispatcher that his father might have a bb gun or pellet gun.”
Although officers thought Smith might barricade himself in the home, he went to the back yard instead. Police soon learned that there were several escape routes from the area, and that children were still in a nearby back yard.
Campion says the presence of the children made Carson decide to confront Smith, although officers found only limited cover in his back yard. Smith didn’t respond to commands from Jones, but showed officers his hands when Carson commanded him to do so.
Smith became uncooperative when he was ordered to crawl out of the back yard on his stomach. He produced a weapon -- a Smith and Wesson .177-caliber air pistol resembling the manufacturer’s .40-caliber pistol -- and told police he had “something for them.”
“Mr. Smith then pointed the pistol at Sgt. Carson, Ofc. Jones, and Ofc. Tulip,” Campion wrote. “Sgt. Carson fired one round from his riot gun, but he missed the first round and then fired a second round.”
When the second 40-millimeter round failed to incapacitate Smith and his weapon was still pointed at officers, Jones opened fire.
“Ofc. Jones fired two shots with the shotgun then stopped to assess Mr. Smith, who was still pointing the pistol at Sgt. Carson and Ofc. Jones,” Campion wrote. “Ofc. Jones then fired at least two more shots at Mr. Smith.”
Heinz, about 50 meters away from Smith in the third team at a neighbor’s back yard, also fired his shotgun when Smith continued to aim at officers after Jones’ initial shots.
“Ofc. Heinz saw Mr. Smith point the pistol at officers once again,” Campion wrote. “In response, Ofc. Heinz fired two buckshot rounds from his shotgun at Mr. Smith.”
Moments after Smith collapsed, officers moved in to provide emergency medical assistance until Anchorage Fire Department medics arrived at the scene. Smith was taken to a local hospital, but later died of his injuries.
Campion found that all three officers were entitled to use deadly force against Smith, based on their belief that he was holding a firearm.
“Mr. Smith never informed the officers that the pistol was a pellet gun nor did Russell Smith,” Campion wrote. “The officers reasonably believed that they were required to use deadly force to prevent Mr. Smith from killing or (wounding) the officers as well as the residents of the neighborhood.”