Family: ‘More questions than answers’ from Seward shooting video
The family of a Chugiak man killed by a Seward police officer last year is asking more questions about his death, after the release of body-camera imagery from the shooting and prosecutors’ decision not to charge the officer.
Last week, the Associated Press received a copy of Officer Matthew “Eddie” Armstrong’s video from the Oct. 1 shooting of 27-year-old Micah McComas outside the Safeway store in Seward. McComas had originally been pulled over for speeding, before Armstrong found drugs during the traffic stop.
A review by the state Office of Special Prosecutions said the shooting was justified, after video showed a struggle when a handcuffed McComas made his way to the front seat of Armstrong’s police car and tried to drive the vehicle. Armstrong said he was knocked down by the moving car, then fired on McComas and killed him.
In a Wednesday statement, McComas’ sister Krista Smith said family members had watched body-cam and dashcam video from Armstrong’s car with prosecutors on Tuesday. After doing so, she said, “our family has more questions than answers.”
“Based on what we saw, we are disappointed with the decision to clear the officer,” Smith wrote. “We did not see any footage that confirms that the officer was ‘hit’ by his patrol car. We saw no evidence that Micah used any force against the officer.”
Smith also questioned cuts in the body camera’s feed, which she said had stopped just before Armstrong is apparently heard firing “two muffled gunshots.”
“It is suspicious that the officer's body cam would be recording clearly until the precise moment the officer discharges his weapon, and then the camera is disabled,” Smith wrote. “We are left to rely solely on the officer's testimony, despite all the technology available to law enforcement today.”
The shooting was investigated by Alaska State Troopers. Megan Peters, a troopers spokesperson, denied Smith's claims regarding the video Thursday.
"There's no evidence to support that anything shady happened," Peters said. "There's no evidence to suggest that anything was edited, clipped or overlooked."
Smith also took issue with the number of gunshots during the shooting, noting that Armstrong told investigators he had fired two or three times – a count seemingly confirmed by the body-cam video. Prosecutors said Armstrong had fired five times, however, recovering that many shell casings at the scene, but McComas’ family said he had suffered at least seven gunshot wounds.
"I have seen my brother's body and can confirm there were seven bullet holes in him, two of them have been identified to us as exit wounds,” Smith said. “The portion of the body cam video when Micah is shot is available to the public, and we have not encountered anyone who can hear more than three gunshots. We are not trying to create something where there is nothing, but there are some striking inconsistencies in this narrative that we want to clear up."
State officials had told the family no forensic analysis was done to corroborate Armstrong’s account of the shooting, Smith said.
“He claims the car accelerated causing him to fall on his back to the ground, but while he was falling out of the car, he was able to fire five shots that all hit my brother, one of which has been described to us as a contact wound,” Smith said. “According to the video we just watched, all of this occurred in 2-3 seconds. Unfortunately, the video stops just as the shooting occurs.”
The family’s statement didn’t make clear whether it intends to sue over McComas’ death. In the meantime, Smith said, his loved ones are asking for more information from the City of Seward and the state, and calling for authorities to ease the “devastating process” faced by shooting victims’ families.
“We've waited for four months to see the body-cam (video), and we've made two trips to Alaska, only to find that the body-cam video stops at the precise time the shooting starts,” Smith said. “We could have been told that months ago.”
Smith said the family hadn't been allowed to view a video of Armstrong's police interview after the shooting. Staff at the state Department of Law said that video was with the Department of Public Safety, as part of Alaska State Troopers' investigation.
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