Troopers arrest Chefornak man for threatening health workers offering COVID vaccines

(Elyssa Loughlin/KYUK)

Alaska State Troopers arrested a Chefornak man for a list of charges, including terroristic threatening of health care workers offering COVID-19 vaccines.

On July 15, a tribal police officer in Chefornak called the Alaska State Troopers. According to a trooper affidavit, the officer reported that two men were walking around the village with long guns. The men were protesting the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation’s plans to send a team to Chefornak to distribute COVID-19 vaccines.

The men were not breaking any laws, but troopers asked the Chefornak Tribal Council to contact them if the men’s protest continued so that troopers could escort the health care workers if necessary.

A few days later, when four people in Chefornak tested positive after three months with no reported cases, YKHC Vice President James Sweeney called troopers to say YKHC would distribute vaccines in Chefornak later that week.

The next day, July 21, Sweeney contacted troopers again. He’d received a threatening Facebook post from Eric Wasili, one of the men who’d been protesting the COVID-19 vaccines.

According to a trooper affidavit, the post threatened “deadly force upon the Chefornak Village Council, YKHC, and to all who are behind mass distribution of vaccinations.”

A day ahead of the health workers’ planned arrival, troopers traveled to Chefornak and went to arrest Wasili at his home. A surreal, armed standoff ensued when Wasili ran to another house and came out with a scoped rifle and shotgun.

Wasili aimed the rifle at one of the troopers, who later wrote in an affidavit, “I was afraid I was going to die.”

Troopers yelled at Wasili to drop the weapons. Wasili’s father, who is a former Chefornak Tribal Police Officer, also urged his son to surrender.

Meanwhile, according to an affidavit, a man kept riding a bicycle back and forth between the troopers and Wasili. Another man emerged from the house where Wasili had retrieved the guns, yelled at the troopers and gave Wasili pitchers of a drink. And a woman who called herself Wasili’s sister yelled at the troopers, “saying AST is only interested in money,” according to a trooper affidavit.

Eventually Wasili walked with the guns to the Chefornak boat launch and boated away. Troopers returned to Bethel.

A couple of days later, on July 24, Chefornak residents arrested Wasili and troopers took him into custody.

Wasili is charged with multiple violations, including one count of terroristic threatening, two counts of third degree assault on troopers, assault in the fourth degree, reckless endangerment and resisting arrest.

The Alaska Public Defender Agency is representing Wasili and did not respond to KYUK’s request for comment.

Chefornak Tribal Administrator Dora Mathew said that the Chefornak Tribal Council fully supports YKHC’s efforts to vaccinate residents against COVID-19.

YKHC Public Information Officer Mary Horgan said that health care workers traveled to Chefornak in the past week to offer COVID-19 vaccines to the community.

According to YKHC, 36.8% of Chefornak’s total population is vaccinated against the virus.

KYUK - Bethel

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