APD officer cleared in stabbing suspect's shooting
An Anchorage police officer has been legally cleared in the fatal shooting of a knife-wielding man who had just stabbed a woman, state prosecutors said Friday.
The state Department of Law released a July 9 letter Friday from Assistant Attorney General John Darnall to Anchorage police. In it, Darnall explains that he won't seek criminal charges against Officer Randy Morales in the March 24 shooting of Zander Clark near the Northway Mall.
Police said Clark had stabbed a woman, identified in Darnall’s letter as Clark’s girlfriend, outside the nearby Home Depot store. She ran into the store with non-life-threatening injuries, as Morales spotted Clark walking away near Penland Parkway and Rodeo Place.
Morales pulled over and ordered Clark to stop, in an encounter recorded by his car’s video system. Instead, however, Clark extended his knife blade and approached Morales’ car.
“As Clark walked toward Officer Morales with the open knife blade, Clark yelled at the officer ‘Please shoot me!’” Darnall wrote. “Officer Morales backed away from Clark, placing the rear of his patrol car between himself and Clark.”
Clark then ran away, and Morales reported the encounter to dispatchers. He then followed Clark on foot into the Penland Parkway Trailer Court, where Clark turned on him and advanced with the knife. Audio from the following moments was recorded by a microphone Morales was wearing.
“On the audio recording, Officer Morales can be heard breathing heavily and then yelling ‘Drop the knife!’” Darnall wrote. “Shots are then heard on the audio, and Officer Morales next announced to the dispatcher that shots were fired. Other officers immediately responded to the scene and secured the area.”
Clark was found dead at the scene, Darnall wrote, along with a knife that was extended and had “what appeared to be droplets of blood on the blade.”
Darnall said Morales was justified in shooting Clark under state law, which allows an officer to use deadly force to defend others or the officer against “a threat of imminent serious physical injury or death.” Morales told investigators he believed he was going to be stabbed when Clark advanced on him.
“The road condition was ‘rutty,’ (or unleveled with ice), slippery and wet in places,” Darnall wrote. “The snow berms on the edges of the roadway were so high that they made moving out of the street very difficult. Also, in the stretch of road where Officer Morales saw Clark, there were few cars and essentially nothing for Officer Morales to place between himself and Clark.”
Clark’s actions “made himself an instantaneous threat” to Morales’ life, Darnall wrote, keeping the state from finding the shooting to be unjustified.
“Stated another way, any reasonable person in Officer Morales’ situation would have been reasonably justified in using ‘deadly force’ to stop Zander Clark’s imminent knife attack,” Darnall wrote.
APD spokesman MJ Thim said Friday that the department couldn't comment on the status of any internal review of the shooting, but appreciated the state's finding.
"We are pleased the review was completed and the officer's actions were found to be justified," Thim said.
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