ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — An Alaska police officer has been cleared in last year's fatal shooting of a handcuffed suspect who had been placed in the officer's idling patrol car and managed to start driving it away, according to a decision by the state attorney general's office.
The office in a letter obtained by The Associated Press following a public records request said it was reasonable for Officer Matthew "Eddie" Armstrong to use deadly force in the Oct. 1 shooting of Micah McComas in the port city of Seward.
Armstrong had handcuffed McComas and put him in the back of the car after drugs were found in his wallet during a traffic stop. McComas somehow got into the car's front seat and tried to drive off while the officer was outside. Authorities have said McComas was officially detained, but not under arrest although the officer read him his Miranda rights.
The letter said "Officer Armstrong stated that at the time he decided to shoot, he knew that McComas was attempting to steal his vehicle with firearms in the trunk" and that the officer was concerned about his safety and the safety of a woman standing near the car McComas' car had been driving.
Video footage released to the AP as part of the records request shows the incident as it unfolded. Armstrong appears calm and in control in the video and McComas is initially relaxed but appears to become agitated when the drugs are found and he is placed in handcuffs.
McComas was put in handcuffs in the back of the patrol car with a sliding partition separating the front seat from the back, that it was open at the time, according to Andrew Peterson, a chief assistant attorney general. The vehicle was idling at the time, he said.
The footage from the officer's body camera appears to show headlights just before the officer is knocked over by the moving patrol car. It does not show the shooting but gunfire can be heard on the audio plus the officer calling out on his radio that shots were fired.
Armstrong got McComas out of the cruiser and began giving him first aid, according to the letter, which states McComas told the officer, "I was just trying to get away, I was gonna get away."
He died later at a hospital and the letter said the autopsy report showed that he tested positive for amphetamine, methamphetamine and diazepam.
Armstrong, whose ear was injured in the incident, returned to active duty in recent weeks, said Seward City Attorney William A. Earnhardt.
"The city is proud of Officer Armstrong's professionalism in this," he said. "But we also have deep sympathy for McComas' family."
McComas' sister, Krista Smith of Greenville, South Carolina, said it's suspicious that the footage did not capture the shooting and wonders why so many shots were fired. She is traveling to Alaska soon to meet with officials and view the video.
Seward is city of about 2,800 people 90 miles (140 kilometers) south of Anchorage, on Alaska's Kenai Peninsula.