Anchorage police officer and suspect shot at Centennial Campground

Tents at a campground and a sign that says "lost everything need cash"
Tents at Centennial Campground last week, soon after the area was repurposed into a place for people who are homeless to camp legally and for free. (Photo by Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

Anchorage police say two officers exchanged gunfire late Wednesday night with a man at an East Anchorage campground where hundreds of homeless people are camping, sending the man and one officer to a hospital.

Both are expected to survive, police said in a written statement.

The two officers were conducting what police described as a “security check” Wednesday night at Centennial Campground prior to the shooting, police said. More than 200 houseless people have been staying there since the city closed a mass shelter, cleared homeless camps and directed campers to Centennial.

It was about 8 p.m. when the officers encountered a man they suspected of having eluded police earlier, police said. The police statement says the man produced a handgun and “gunfire was exchanged” between the officers and the man.

The officers shot the man multiple times, and one of the officers was shot. Both the officer and the suspect were taken to a hospital and are expected to survive.

Police Chief Michael Kerle said police investigating the shooting do not yet have information about who shot first and are still conducting a preliminary investigation.

The police statement says charges are expected to be filed against the man, who has not been publicly identified.

Per department policy, Kerle said the names of the officers involved in the shooting will be withheld for 72 hours, and they will be on administrative leave for four days.

The state Office of Special Prosecutions will review the officers’ use of force to determine whether it was justified.

Mayor Dave Bronson’s administration opened Centennial Campground for homeless campers and bused some there around the same time it shut down the city’s Sullivan Arena, which had served as an emergency mass shelter since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Since then, the administration has drawn criticism from advocates for what they say is a lack of oversight and supplies, and unsafe conditions.

Last weekend, a fight at the campground drew a large police response and resulted in multiple officers being assaulted, the Anchorage Daily News reported. The campground has also been the site of dozens of police calls since the city started waiving fees and directed people experiencing homelessness there a few weeks ago. State biologists and wildlife troopers have also killed five bears that have come into the campground looking for food, in campers’ tents in some cases.

Alaska Public Media

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