Juneau police officer returns to work after fatally shooting a man in December

(Tripp Crouse/KTOO)

The Juneau police officer who shot and killed a man while responding to a 911 call last month has returned to duty.

Juneau Police Department spokesperson Erann Kalwara said that Officer James Esbenshade is currently assigned to administrative duties. That could be anything from catching up on paperwork to working the front desk at the police station.

“He’s not on patrol, he’s not in uniform,” Kalwara said.

It’s a normal part of the process for Juneau police officers who are involved in a shooting.

“It is healthy for the officer to gradually get back into the position instead of going right back into uniform and patrolling the street,” Kalwara wrote in an email.

Esbenshade has been with the Juneau Police Department for more than a decade. He was responding to a 911 call on Dec. 29 when he encountered Kelly Michael Stephens on Cinema Drive in the Mendenhall Valley.

Police said Stephens threatened to kill Esbenshade and swung a rope with a chain attached to the end at the officer. Police said Esbenshade warned Stephens to stop before he fired one shot, hitting the 34-year-old tattoo artist in the stomach.

Stephens didn’t die immediately, and some eyewitnesses dispute the timeline of what happened after the shooting. But police said they handcuffed Stephens and called paramedics.

Juneau police consulted with Alaska State Troopers investigators after the shooting. However, both Kalwara and a spokesperson for the state troopers said that the Juneau Police Department is leading its own investigation.

That investigation has not been completed. Kalwara said Juneau police plan to hold another press conference when they finish it.

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