Barrow man sentenced in long-delayed shooting case
April 5th, 2013 | Carey Restino
**The print version of this article identified Okpik as a former police officer, he is not. The Arctic Sounder regrets the confusion.
A Barrow man convicted of assault charges after drawing a firearm on himself and eventually pointing it at two police officers was sentenced to two years in jail with one suspended last week, and an additional three years of probation tacked on.
Okpik was shot in the arm during the incident.
The sentencing, which has been postponed five times since November, stems from a shooting incident in Barrow that took place nearly a year ago.
Eben Okpik was charged with third-degree assault after drawing a firearm on himself and eventually pointing it at two North Slope Borough Police officers.
Police Officer Sgt. Gary Moore, who responded to the initial domestic disturbance call, ultimately shot Okpik in the arm after a nearly 20 minute stand off. Moore appeared in court to read a victim impact statement addressed to Okpik.
According to Moore's statement, Okpik was intoxicated, armed, driving a vehicle and making threats of using the gun when Okpik's wife, Aqamak Okpik, called for help.
Moore was speaking with Okpik's wife when his partner, Officer Kevin Gilmore, radioed to let him know that Okpik was on his way back to the residence.
What followed was a nearly 20-minute potentially-fatal confrontation, during which time Okpik and both officers had their guns drawn.
"I quickly exited the front porch, went down the stairs and was headed back to my patrol vehicle," Moore said to Okpik in court, "when I observed you plow your truck into a snow bank inside your driveway, not more than 15 feet in front of me and you immediately stuck a handgun to your head."
Moore and Gilmore were the only officers on duty in the early morning hours, and Gilmore had less than one year of experience at the time. Moore said he felt responsible for keeping everyone in the situation safe - from himself and his fellow officer, to Okpik's wife and three children just inside the house.
Both Moore and Gilmore told the court that they gave Okpik more than 100 verbal orders to put down his weapon. During that time he reportedly stuck the gun to his head and mouth repeatedly, and threatened to kill himself.
Moore's impact statement spoke to the fear he felt during the incident, and the lingering effects that stress has brought to his personal and professional life.
"My worst fear though, was that you would exit your vehicle and make a run for the house," Moore said.
During his impact statement, Gilmore described the morning's conditions to the court.
"It was probably 20, 25 below, so after about a minute and a half, two minutes my hands were numb, shakin," Gilmore said.
He said by the time Okpik turned the gun toward the officers, he was also prepared to shoot.
"Just before Sgt Moore shot, my finger was on the trigger," Gilmore said. "I was taking the slack out, and it's probably a millimeter or less before it would have went off."
Okpik was disarmed and later transported to Anchorage for medical treatment.
When Moore got a chance to examine the evidence left at the scene, he found a fully loaded clip with a bullet in the 9 mm handgun's chamber.
Moore told the court he decided to appear at the sentencing in part to support a stronger sentence than those he'd heard suggested.
"Had I and others not objected and the court were to impose a probation-only sentence for your felony crime, I believe it would have sent a horrible message to the general public and especially to the criminal element that there are no serious repercussions for pointing a loaded weapon at law enforcement officers on the North Slope."
Moore spoke to recent tragedies in Alaska's law enforcement community to emphasize the gravity of the situation he and his fellow officer faced that day.
"The need to take individuals, such as you, into custody as soon as possible for an assault on law enforcement officers was reinforce?this week by the sad news of the death of Village Public Safety Officer Thomas Madole," Moore said?"He was killed in the line of duty in another village in Alaska, by a suspect, who was armed and threatening people? In that situation, the worst possible outcome happened and now the deceased VPSO's family has to live without their loved one because of a senseless situation, similar to what you created that day last April?the only difference, being the outcome of these two events."
Okpik's wife Aqamak Okpik and Chief of Police Leon Boyea also provided statements at the sentencing.
"I've been involved in shooting-related incidents and have had to use deadly force myself," Boyea said. "Over 27 years you would think that it would get easier. That just sitting here talking about it would be easier."
The United States loses more than 100 law enforcement officers in the line of duty every year, Boyea said, a sad fact reflected in the many names listed at the Police Officer's Memorial in Washington, D.C.
"With all of my experience, I'm sitting here shaking like a leaf, because I know the impact that the defendant's actions have upon officers," he said.
Boyea urged the court to sentence Okpik with consideration for the gravity of the crime.
Aqamak Okpik urged the court to not consider jail time for her husband, saying even a temporary loss of his support at home and time away from his job would be devastating to the family. She spoke to his improvement since the shooting, and his efforts to regain control of his life.
"I think this whole incident has really humbled Eben and he made a conscious effort to change," she said. "He made a mistake and he has made that conscious effort for not only himself but for me and his children to better his life."
The legal sentencing range was zero to two years in this case, said Judge Michael Jeffery.
Hannah Heimbuch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.