Fairbanks police chief: Shooter killed by officers was 'true evil'
Fairbanks’ police chief said Thursday that a 21-year-old man, fatally shot by his officers during a violent confrontation in June, had extensively prepared himself for violence and had “true evil” on his mind.
All four officers involved in the shooting of Matthew Colton Stover – Gerri Butler, Lane Bonham, Cory Rupe and Kirt Allen – were cleared of any charges in the shooting, according to a Sept. 27 letter from the state Office of Special Prosecutions.
Eric Jewkes spoke at a news conference describing the events which led officers to fire on Stover during the early hours of June 21. He also unveiled the tactical gear, including body armor and extensive stockpiles of ammunition, which Stover had readied before officers tried to contact him.
Officers tried to speak with Stover in a parking lot near a Denny’s restaurant off Airport Way, following a report of suspicious activity at about 3 a.m. Jewkes said officers had positioned themselves on two sides of his truck before he emerged from it firing, prompting four officers to fire on him.
Stover had conducted detailed research online regarding how to make grenades, thermite explosives and slow-burning fuses, Jewkes said, as well as the effectiveness of weapons systems, body armor and police radio scanners.
He had also looked into an infamous 1997 North Hollywood shootout, in which a pair of heavily armed California suspects wounded 20 people before being shot to death by police. One YouTube clip Stover watched was entitled “Bank robber unleashes AK-47 on sheriff’s officers.”
“He was specifically fixated on this mass carnage surrounding violent bank robbers,” Jewkes said. “He prepared to just obliterate this community.”
Speaking before he discussed the details of Stover’s death, Jewkes emphasized the grim reality of the events despite their movie-like detail.
“This one is particularly disturbing to us and should be particularly disturbing to the entire city of Fairbanks,” Jewkes said. “This event happened here in Fairbanks; it happened in our community, it happened to our police officers.”
Police also showed reporters a display of the equipment Stover was carrying at the time of the shootout, including custom body armor with a ballistic face mask and extended panels to protect Stover’s arms and throat. He was armed with a .22 caliber M4 carbine and wearing four 30-round magazines in a tactical vest, along with a Glock pistol and two 15-round magazines. The front seat of Stover’s truck contained seven more rifle magazines and a box of ammunition, giving him a total of more than 400 rounds ready to be fired.
“On this Monday morning at 3 a.m. our officers stopped between this man, who had true evil intent -- this man was true evil -- and the rest of the community to make sure that he would not pass,” Jewkes said.
In a dashcam video of the encounter itself, police Lt. Gregory Foster and another police cruiser pull up in the parking lot about 100 yards behind Stover’s Chevrolet pickup truck. Bonham, Rupe and Allen had been positioned in a treeline to the right of the pickup truck.
When Foster announces, “Driver, this is the Fairbanks Police Department” on a megaphone, Stover emerges from the truck’s driver’s seat and runs toward Foster’s car shooting his rifle, prompting return fire from the officers in the treeline as well as Butler from the FPD vehicles. The exchange ends after just a few seconds later with Foster calling, “Shots fired, shots fired” into his radio.
An explosive ordnance disposal team from Fort Wainwright was called to evaluate a bag near Stover’s vehicle which smelled of accelerant, although none was found. A number of businesses in the area, including a Regal Cinemas theater and the Chief Andrew Isaac Medical Center, were placed on lockdown or evacuated.
A large bag was located near Stover's vehicle, which police say was emitting an odor of an accelerant. That prompted the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team's response from Fort Wainwright, though no explosives were found and the area was cleared. As a precaution, several area businesses, including Chief Andrew Isaac Medical Center and Regal Cinemas, were either placed on lockdown or evacuated.
Andrew Peterson, Special Prosecutions’ chief assistant attorney general, said in the letter that Stover’s gunfire forced both Foster and Butler to immediately take cover. The officers who returned fire, stopping Stover before he could fire more than seven shots, were justified in protecting themselves as well as Foster.
“The evidence collected does not provide clarity to Stover’s motive for his behavior, but evidence relevant to Stover’s state of mind suggests that he did not intend to survive the ordeal,” Alexander wrote.
Jewkes said police never learned what Stover’s specific intentions were on that June morning, and had only the results of their investigation and Stover’s observed actions to consider.
“I think it’s fair to say he was starting his plan; whatever it was, what it was, we don’t know,” Jewkes said. “Whatever he had planned, whatever he had prepared for, whatever kind of devastation he was planning to inflict on this community, it was happening.”