Police expert criticizes Hoonah officer’s actions before shooting

A former Seattle-area police chief says a properly trained police officer would not have behaved like a Hoonah officer before he was gunned down five years ago.

“To do what he did, under these circumstances, it’s just inexcusable,” says retired Bellevue Police Chief Donald Perry ‘D.P.’ Van Blaricom. “It just shows a total lack of training and awareness.”

Van Blaricom was called to the stand by plaintiffs in a wrongful death lawsuit filed against the City of Hoonah. Haley Tokuoka claims her husband Matthew was killed by John Marvin Jr. in August 2010, after Marvin was provoked by fellow officer Tony Wallace, who also died in the incident.

Moments before Marvin shot the officers, the Tokuoka family had stopped to unload fish scraps in a dumpster on Hoonah’s Front Street. Wallace, who was on duty and accompanied by his mother Deb Greene during a ride-along, pulled up behind them in a police vehicle with flashing lights, siren, and loudspeaker.

“I hesitate to use the word childish. But I can’t think of a much better term. That’s how I’d address one of my subordinates if they did it,” Van Blaricom says. “Making this pretend traffic stop is a misuse of your equipment. Even if you’re joking around, that’s not what it’s for. Secondly, it undoubtedly attracted Marvin’s attention. So, now he knows they’re there.”

Wallace also pointed a flashlight at Marvin’s house across the street before both officers were shot.

Van Blaricom called it a reckless and foolish thing for Wallace to do in that situation, because an emotionally disturbed or mentally ill person could be easily provoked by the lights and noise. He says confrontation should always be avoided in those circumstances and a trained officer would likely have done a legitimate traffic stop in a different location, away from Marvin’s house.

Van Blaricom says constant training is essential for establishing an officer’s conditioned response to situations that they may encounter on an everyday basis.

“You don’t want to use on-the-job training for police officers,” Van Blaricom says. “Police officers are often engaged in life or death decisions that often times must be made in a split second. That’s why you train officers and train them well.”

A year before the shooting, both Tokuoka and Wallace arrested Marvin during an incident that became physical and included the use of a Taser.

Van Blaricom spent 29 years entirely with the Bellevue Police Department starting as a rookie patrol cop and retiring as chief of police. He says he developed a police manual and pushed for more department hiring of women and minorities. He currently serves as lecturer and consultant on police practices and training.

Also Thursday, a former Juneau and Hoonah police officer testified that he never saw any evidence that Wallace went through proper field training with former Hoonah Police Chief Jeff Hankla. Field Training Officers, or FTOs, usually accompany and critique rookie officers during their first three- to four-months on the job.

Paul Comolli says he saw Wallace go out on patrol alone without an FTO and then return to Hankla’s residence at the end of his shift.

“They’re completely unsafe on their own,” Comolli says. “This is a brand new puppy that’s cutting its teeth on laws and the citizenry. You don’t just hand them a gun, turn them loose, and say ‘Go play in traffic.'”

Comolli says there’s a wide margin of error in all of the things that new officers will do.

“Whether it’s traffic stops … arrests, doing a criminal investigation, working a scene, collecting evidence. Anything not done correctly undermines a case and creates a great potential for an illegal arrest,” Comolli says.

Comolli was trained as an FTO, but he says he received a written order to not advise or train Wallace when he returned from the academy.

Comolli was part of the ambulance crew that went to Hoonah’s Front Street after hearing undefined reports of a possible officer injury. He also treated Wallace as Tokuoka died next to him in the same room at the clinic.

Also testifying in Juneau Superior Court on Thursday was Haley’s mother who called Matthew Tokuoka an excellent dad. One of his older daughters from a previous relationship is expected to testify on Friday about her potential relationship with her now-deceased father.

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