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By DAN JOLING
ANCHORAGE — Law enforcement officers told a young Alaska Native man 78 times to put down his gun before he pointed the weapon at them and was fatally shot on Christmas Eve, the chief of the Fairbanks Police Department said.
Police and Alaska State Troopers on Wednesday released audio and video recordings of the 11 minutes preceding the death of Cody Eyre, 20.
Three state troopers and two police officers fired at Eyre as he walked toward officers with his gun raised, Fairbanks Police Chief Erik Jewkes said at a news conference in Fairbanks.
"The risk became simply too great," Jewkes said.
Eyre's family says officers could have handled the situation without using deadly force. Eyre's sister, Samantha Eyre-Harrison, a nurse, said heavily armed officers approached a man having a bad mental health day by shining bright lights into his face and shouting commands.
"The escalated a stable situation into an unstable situation," she said. The family has hired an attorney plans to file a wrongful death lawsuit.
Eyre-Harrison earlier this year said her brother on Dec. 24 was having a bad day, experiencing girlfriend problems and a truck that would not start. He drank alcohol and went for a walk to clear his mind. He carried a small pistol. The temperature was 10 degrees below zero.
Eyre's mother, worried for his safety, followed him in a car. Over two hours, she tried unsuccessfully to persuade Eyre to come home. Eyre walked for about 4 miles (6.4 kilometers), and his mother finally called 911 for assistance.
Eyre spoke to responding officers on the Steese Highway and walked past them to a trail into woods. The audio records the crunch of footsteps on hard-packed snow as officers follow Eyre at a distance. They continually call out, "Cody, put down the gun."
An officer was recorded saying Eyre at least twice gestured toward them with the weapon. Later, the young man put the gun to his own head, an officer said.
An agitated Eyre shouted profanities at the officers, ordered them to turn off lights pointed at him, and yelled. Eyre verbally threatened the officers, raised his gum and walked toward the officers, Jewkes said, and they fired.
Eyre's mother and a sister, still on the highway, heard shots. Eyre was taken to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, where he died.
An investigation by the state Office of Special Prosecutions concluded two weeks ago that no charges would be filed against Troopers Elondre Johnson, Christine Joslin and James Thomas, and Fairbanks Police Officers Richard Sweet and Tyler Larimer, who fired more than 40 rifle shots and two shotgun blasts at Eyre.
"I don't know anything we could have done differently that would have changed the outcome," said Capt. Ron Wall, commander of the trooper detachment headquartered in Fairbanks.
Eyre-Harrison said the video released by police and troopers does not show her brother initially speaking calmly to officers along the highway and pointing to the trail where he intended to walk, she said.
"He's showing a lot of restraint," she said. "He's going to an area to try to decrease the stimulation in his environment and chill out, a self-coping mechanism. That's why he went on the walk, and that's why he was trying to calm down."
A different approach by police would have kept her brother alive, she said.
"He is responding to them following him," Eyre-Harrison said. "If they had stopped and backed up, he probably wouldn't have continued walking. He probably would have stayed put once he didn't feel threatened."
Native Americans have the highest death rate of any ethnic group in officer-related shootings, she said, and mentally ill Americans are far more likely to be killed in encounters with police.
"The big picture is, how to we respond to these people, to these groups," she said.