A documentary film is being made about an Alaska Native man who was fatally shot in Fairbanks by law enforcement officers in December 2017.
Family members of Cody Eyre say they’re developing the documentary to share who he was and what happened to him, but also to effect change in how calls for mental health issues are responded to. Eyre’s sister Samantha Harrison received funding from the Sundance Film Festival and Time Entertainment to create the film.
The film, she said, “really kind of encompasses and helps better showcase Cody as a human, as an individual and just the ways our life has been impacted by losing Cody.”
Eyre was 20 years old on Christmas Eve in 2017 and experiencing a mental health crisis. His mother called 911 asking for help, saying her son was depressed, had been drinking and had left the house on foot, with a holstered handgun. Fairbanks police and Alaska State Troopers found Eyre walking alone in sub-zero darkness.
During a protracted interaction along and off the Steese Highway, officers repeatedly ordered Eyre to put down his gun, which he aimed at himself and then toward the officers, while making a threat, according to a report from the state Office of Special Prosecutions. The officers shot Eyre multiple times and he died at the hospital.
The state found the killing was justified, but Eyre’s family has maintained the heavily-armed police and troopers escalated a situation that could have been resolved without force.
Harrison said the film will take a close look at the killing of her brother.
”Just really dive into how wrong what happened to Cody is,” she said.
The film will also look at statistics.
“Indigenous people comprise 15% of Alaska’s population, yet 30% of the police killings,” says the film’s description on Sundance’s website. “The city of Fairbanks is 4% of Alaska’s population, yet approximately 25% of the state’s police killings occur there. This is the story of 20-year-old Inupiaq man Cody Dalton Eyre, who went for a walk in Fairbanks, Alaska.”
Eyre’s dad, Kyle Eyre, said he hopes the film reaches the law enforcement officers who responded and changes “the mentality that’s there.”
“So that they don’t do this again. Maybe it will help with that,” he said.
He and Harrison point to one positive change that’s already happened: a new city crisis intervention team, which deploys mental health peers and professionals instead of police.
“If we didn’t pitch a fit and we don’t stand up for what’s goin’ on, you probably wouldn’t see that crisis intervention team,” said Kyle Eyre.
“If he had had a crisis intervention team helping manage him, the outcome would have been radically different,” Harrison said.
A wrongful death suit filed in federal court by the family against the city of Fairbanks and the Alaska Department of Public Safety is pending a judge’s decision on whether the case will go to trial. Harrison stresses that her family isn’t alone.
“This is an issue that has happened to other people in the Fairbanks community and Alaska at large,” Harrison said.