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Family of man shot by Anchorage police in 2019 hold rally after dash camera video released

The family of Bishar Hassan, who was shot and killed by Anchorage police in 2019, held a rally Friday to honor his memory and to call for justice.
Published: Apr. 1, 2022 at 4:44 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The family of Bishar Hassan, who was shot and killed by Anchorage police on April 1, 2019, is holding a rally and vigil Friday, to honor his memory and to call for justice, claiming his life should not have been cut short at the hands of police.

The rally comes after the Alaska Black Caucus, an advocacy group, released police department dash camera videos of the shooting, obtained by an attorney for the Hassan family. The family has filed a lawsuit against the Municipality of Anchorage and the officers involved. The police dash cam video was provided to the Alaska Black Caucus before a court-issued gag order in the case. The three police videos show what transpired over approximately eight seconds three years ago.

The three officers were cleared by an investigation into the shooting by the State of Alaska’s Office of Special Prosecutions.

“OSP will not be filing criminal charges against any of the officers in this matter,” reads a letter to the Anchorage Police Department from then-Attorney General Kevin Clarkson and Assistant Attorney General John Darnall.

The special prosecutions office letter details the events of that day, saying that Anchorage police dispatch received at least four calls regarding a man now believed to be Hassan. One caller said the man was lying on the ground non-responsive. One noted that man had gotten up and was pointing a handgun at the ground. Another said the man was walking into traffic, waving what appeared to be a 9 mm handgun. A fourth caller said the man was walking northbound on A Street waving a gun, but not pointing it at anyone. Another told dispatchers the man may have had mental health issues, according to the report.

The gun Hassan was carrying, investigators found, was a replica-style BB gun that looked like a handgun.

Officers responding to the calls saw Hassan, who fit the description offered to dispatchers, walking along A Street near 16th Avenue in Anchorage, after getting off a bus.

Dash camera video from three responding police officers shows varying angles of what happened, but two of them show one police vehicle pulling onto the sidewalk behind Hassan. On the video, Hassan then turns and walks toward the officer’s vehicle. An officer tells Hassan “Hey, stop right there, man. Stop.” The video shows Hassan reaching into his waistband and pulling out a BB gun, holding it out towards the officer, while speaking. Three officers then quickly fired at Hassan, hitting him multiple times.

The entire encounter, starting with Hassan’s turning to walk toward the officer’s vehicle, takes approximately eight seconds. It begins from the time the officer asks Hassan to stop, to when Hassan reaches into his waistband and the moment when shots were fired. During that time approximately two seconds passed.

The Alaska Black Caucus, advocating on behalf of Hassan’s surviving brother and mother, says officers should have resorted to other measures.

“The bottom line is there should have been commands given: ‘Drop your weapon, show us your hands,’ something. He had it palm up, and they unloaded on him,” said Pastor Leon May, a member of the Alaska Black Caucus, during a Tuesday media press conference about the incident.

The Black Caucus says Hassan’s action of pulling out the gun was to disclose to the law enforcement officer that he had the replica weapon, as is required by state statute.

According to state law, a person with a concealed deadly weapon, if contacted by police, must “immediately inform the peace officer of that possession,” and “allow the peace officer to secure the deadly weapon” or “secure the weapon at the direction of the peace officer.”

But pulling the gun, even a replica, out to show police is what set the next irreversible events into motion, says the president of the Anchorage Police Department Employees Association, the union which represents Anchorage police officers.

“No one should ever produce a weapon at a police officer,” said Sgt. Jeremy Conklin, in an interview Thursday. “Our officers don’t know what your intent is. They can only assume that when somebody produces a weapon that they’re intending to hurt the officer. And we train them to react like that because training them to react in any other manner is going to get our officers killed.”

Rich Curtner, an attorney working with the Alaska Black Caucus, said the shooting indicates that officers need more de-escalation training.

“This is a great example of how that situation could have been de-escalated immediately if they had stopped and had tried to talk to Hassan, realized that English was his second language and given him a chance,” Curtner said. “He had no chance at all really to respond in any way.”

Celeste Hodge Growden, president of the Alaska Black Caucus, said implicit bias may have played a part and may warrant more diversity training.

“I’m just concerned that because they see this black man, they automatically assume that there’s something negative, or we need to shoot because we fear for our lives and that’s where that training, I would hope, would come in and the de-escalation,” Hodge Growden said.

The Anchorage Police Department declined an interview for this story due to the ongoing lawsuit filed by the Hassan family. But Conklin, with the police union, says Anchorage officers participate in diversity training with community members, and de-escalation training is conducted at the police academy.

While one person who called 911 the day of the shooting said they thought the man, later believed to be Hassan, may have been experiencing mental health issues, Conklin says there was little time for dialogue and resources from the department’s Crisis Intervention Team.

“As soon as somebody produces a weapon, all of that goes out the window,” Conklin said, “because the only thing that matters at that moment is the officer is trained, and has to be trained, that they are there to preserve life and safety. Sometimes it’s their own life that they have to protect.”

The family members of Bishar Hassan and their attorney in the civil case are barred by an order from the judge from speaking with the media regarding the case, and therefore, could not grant an interview.

The next deadline in the lawsuit is in late July.

The Alaska Black Caucus is hosting a rally for Bishar Hassan at 5 p.m. at A Street and 16th Avenue on Friday, April 1, 2022, the third anniversary of the day Hassan was killed.

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