Two Anchorage police officers exchanged gunfire late Wednesday with a man at an East Anchorage campground where hundreds of homeless people are camping, sending the man and one officer to a hospital, according to police.
Both are expected to survive, police said in a written statement.
The officers were patrolling the area and not responding to a call, according to the Anchorage Police Department. 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. Wednesday, when the officers saw a truck that matched the description of a vehicle that had eluded police the day before, police said.
The two officers exited their vehicles and saw a man they later identified as 32-year-old Iese Gali Jr. walking near the truck, police said. The officers tried to contact him, but Gali ignored them and walked toward a minivan parked nearby, according to police.
The officers ordered Gali to stop, but he got into the front passenger seat of the van. They then tried to remove Gali from the van, and “a struggle ensued, during which time Gali produced a firearm and fired,” injuring one of the officers, police said in a statement.
People at the scene helped the injured officer and officers “administered life-saving measures to Gali” until medics arrived, the statement said.
James Keele, a camper at Centennial, described the incident. Keele said he was sitting behind his tent when he saw a man he recognized moving toward a blue van. Two police officers were chasing him, Keele said.
The next thing Keele knew, the man pulled out a gun.
“He was shooting both ways, like toward me, toward the cops,” Keele said. “So many people could have got hurt. It’s so scary, man.”
Keele guessed he heard 10 shots as he ran away from the gunfire.
“The officer got shot, he went down and he had a big ol’ hole on his side,” Keele said. “I thought he was gonna die.”
Keele said he is trying to move out of the campground to somewhere he feels safe.
Gali was charged with attempted murder, two counts of assault and misconduct involving a weapon. Gali was still hospitalized Thursday afternoon and will be sent to the Anchorage jail when he is released, police said.
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.
A statement on Thursday afternoon from a group of Assembly members said that the injured officer underwent surgery at the hospital. The officer was stable and his family had been able to visit him, according to the statement.
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.