FAIRBANKS—Fairbanks police and Alaska State Troopers defended their actions in the Christmas Eve shooting death of Cody Dalton Eyre during a joint media briefing at Fairbanks police headquarters Wednesday afternoon.
Chief Eric Jewkes presented audio recordings and video footage leading up to the incident and warned viewers the content was graphic and profanity-laden. Jewkes said police and troopers "worked diligently to be open and honest" about the night Eyre died and understood the frustration and pain of Eyre's family.
Eyre, 20, of Delta Junction and Fairbanks, was shot by three troopers and two police officers in a wooded area east of the intersection of the Steese Highway and the Johansen Expressway, off of Lazelle Road, on Dec. 24, 2017. The officers had responded to the area after getting reports that Eyre had been drinking, was suicidal and had a .22-caliber revolver loaded with one bullet.
A 9-month investigation by the state Office of Special Prosecutions determined troopers Elondre Johnson, Christine Joslin and James Thomas and Fairbanks police officers Richard Sweet and Tyler Larimer would not be charged in Eyre's death because Eyre pointed his gun at them and threatened their lives.
Jewkes said the officers were trying to end the situation peacefully and put themselves at great risk as they walked behind Eyre "with absolutely no cover" for approximately half an hour. Jewkes noted the officers called out to Eyre 78 times to stop and put his gun down but that Eyre ignored them.
"When Cody turned around, walked toward them, pointed a gun at them and said that they could die right now, that's when the risk became too great," Jewkes said.
Officers fired more than 40 .223-caliber rounds and two individual shotgun rounds at Eyre in two volleys. Eyre's body had 23 gunshot wounds associated with the shooting, but since the wounds included both entry and exit wounds, the exact number of bullet strikes was difficult to establish, according to the report.
An autopsy conducted at the state medical examiner's office revealed Eyre died of a gunshot wound to the left rear of his head.
The 11-minute presentation begins and ends with uncut audio from Johnson's body microphone. Video from Larimer's dashboard and body cameras shows the incident unfolding and is augmented by video from Sweet's dashboard cam.
Eyre is clearly distraught and repeatedly yells at the officers to shut up. At one point Eyre drops to his knees and puts the gun to his head before standing up and threatening again to kill himself. Officers continue to plead with him and follow as he gets up and continues walking. Eyre becomes more agitated and eventually points the gun at the officers while screaming "You guys can (expletive) die right now."
Video of the actual shooting is not shown, but a fusillade of shots is heard as the audio continues. A second volley follows soon after the first, and the shooting stops when officers determine Eyre is down and no longer a threat.
Jewkes said the second volley of shots was fired because Eyre still had the gun in his hand.
When asked if the fact Eyre died of a gunshot wound to the back of head would indicate Eyre was turning away from officers and no longer posed a threat, Jewkes said several factors hindered the officers' ability to see exactly what Eyre was doing at that time. Visibility was limited because of poor lighting, cold temperatures caused the officers' breath to reflect the flashing lights behind them, muzzle flashes from the first volley affected their night vision, and steam from the fired weapons obscured their view, he said.
"You have to look at what happens during a rapidly evolving event, and what it takes to react to stimulus, and whether it's even conceivable to know which way something's turning when you're not necessarily looking at their head or which way their eyes are facing," Jewkes said.
The media presentation was live-streamed on the Fairbanks Police Department Facebook page during the briefing. It can also be found at https://youtu.be/9Q0Q9mdvpi4
Eyre's family has expressed frustration at the slow pace of the state investigation and is preparing a wrongful death suit against the state. The family staged a protest outside the police station during the briefing and spoke to the media afterward.
Eyre's sister, Samantha Eyre-Harrison, said the family wasn't informed about the time and location of the briefing until Tuesday afternoon and that they weren't told the audio and video would be released to the public at that time. She said the family has been shown a short clip of the presentation Tuesday that included video of the first volley of shots but that they have not been allowed to see all of the officers' body camera footage as they had requested.
Eyre's mother, Magdalena Eyre, said the video was upsetting.
"We saw them shoot Cody. We saw him fall, and they said 'the suspect is down.' Cody was never a suspect. He didn't do anything wrong. He was not a criminal," she said.
Eyre-Harrison said the video and audio did not change the family's mind about a lawsuit and that they still believe the officers could have defused the situation without using deadly force.
Contact staff writer Dorothy Chomicz at 459-7582. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMcrime.