Juneau police say state won’t charge officer for use of force in fatal shooting

The state will not bring criminal charges against a Juneau police officer involved in a fatal shooting late last year.

According to a release from the Juneau Police Department, a letter received Friday from the Alaska Department of Law states that Officer James Esbenshade was “legally justified in his use of deadly force in order to defend himself from the threat of serious physical injury.”

Esbenshade was responding to a 911 call on the night of Dec. 29, when he encountered Kelly Michael Stephens on Cinema Drive in the Mendenhall Valley.

Police said Stephens threatened to kill Esbenshade and approached him while swinging a rope with a chain attached to the end. Police said Esbenshade warned Stephens to stop before firing one shot, hitting the 34-year-old in the stomach. Stephens later died.

Esbenshade, who has been with the department for more than a decade, was placed on administrative leave after the shooting, per department policy. He returned to work in January in an administrative role. He could return to patrol duty next week, according to JPD.

Calls for more information from JPD and the Alaska Department of Law were not immediately returned on Friday.

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