Deadly Force Debate Divides Community
Police remain tight lipped about Saturday shooting
ANCHORAGE – While police call it a split-second decision, the fatal Saturday night altercation between an officer and a Mountain View man continues to divide the community.
Police remain tight-lipped about the event, but said 26-year-old Boaz Gionson was the first officer to respond to a call on the 700 block of North Bunn Street the night of May 9. He was approached by 26-year-old Shane Tasi, who police said was armed with a long stick. When Tasi refused orders to put it down and stop his approach, Gionson fired.
“It’s a traumatic event in the life of an officer; no officer wakes up in the morning and wants to go use deadly force on another person,” said Lieutenant Dave Parker, a spokesman for the Anchorage Police Department. “We’re dedicated to saving life, that’s what we try to do.”
Some community members question why other methods weren’t used to halt Tasi’s advance.
“We can’t hide behind a closet and try to explain to a mom with an unborn child and young kids what really happened with a broomstick to their dad and their husband,” said Al Vanilau, an elder with the Anchorage Samoan Assembly of God.
Gionson’s friends and acquaintances describe him as a dedicated police officer of nearly five years, a former Bartlett High School honors student and star football player. John Jessen, the officer’s former high school coach, described him as an all-around outstanding person.
“I would imagine as a police officer, he would do exactly the same as a student, same as a football player: follow the rules and do what he thought was right, and do the best he could in any situation,” Jessen said.
According to the Anchorage Police Department Employee Association, Gionson was placed in a situation in which he had to protect others and himself.
“If there is an immediate threat to the public, the officer is likely to start trying to deal with the situation without back-up,” said APDEA President Derek Hsieh.
The decision to use deadly force often hinges on a number of factors, Hsieh said: How far away the suspect is, whether they are armed and whether others are at risk all play a part. Hsieh said it’s a decision dubbed “response to resistance.”
“From the time the officer perceives the threat to the time that the officer uses the force is usually measured in seconds,” he said. “The officer has to make an immediate assessment on which tool is going to be the most likely to resolve the threat to themselves and the public.”
Hsieh said officers often had less than four seconds to make a decision about deadly force, and while other tools were sometimes used, firearms were the primary weapons. Because Tasi had a weapon that could have been used lethally against Gionson Saturday night, Hsieh said the officer was forced to make a quick judgment.
Many residents are curious as to why a Taser wasn't used, but Hsieh said that when an officer has a Taser the procedure is to have backup in case it dosen't work. He said that you can't hold a Taser and a gun.
Now, it’s up to the Office of Special Prosecutions to determine whether Gionson’s decision was the right one.