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An Alaska city reinstates its police chief after felony assault charge is dropped

KETCHIKAN, Alaska (AP) — The police chief of a small Alaska community is back to work after a felony assault charge against him was dropped and the city cleared him in an internal investigation.

Ketchikan Police Chief Jeffrey Walls returned to work Aug. 22.

“He has a proven track record of keeping his community safe and of acting in the best interest of his officers and citizens; I am confident that he will continue to do so at KPD,” Ketchikan City Manager Delilah Walsh said in a statement provided to the Ketchikan Daily News announcing Walls’ reinstatement.

A grand jury in December returned an indictment against Walls, charging him with felony assault along with five misdemeanors, three counts of assault and two counts of reckless endangerment, stemming from an incident at a local resort.

According to court documents, Alaska State Troopers responded to the Salmon Falls Resort restaurant on Sept. 10 to investigate a report of an assault involving a man, Walls and Walls’ wife, Sharon.

Troopers believed they were responding to an assault on the Wallses but saw the chief outside, apparently uninjured, and the man bleeding from his head, the documents said.

Witnesses told investigators the man was intoxicated and causing disturbances throughout the evening. The man intentionally bumped into the chair of the chief, who was off-duty at the time, and apologized. The two men shook hands, according to the indictment.

An hour later, the man stumbled into Sharon Walls’ bar chair. Her husband got up from his seat, ran after the man and pushed him head-first into a stone wall and put him in a chokehold, the indictment said.

The city put Walls on paid administrative leave pending its own internal investigation.

Last month, the felony charge was dismissed by Ketchikan Superior Court Judge Katherine Lybrand, who found the state prosecutor gave erroneous instructions to the grand jury regarding Walls’ legal authority as a peace officer under Alaska statute to use force to make an arrest or terminate an escape while off duty.

The prosecutor’s error was “significant enough to warrant dismissal of the indictment,” the judge said.

The misdemeanor charges remain, and a jury trial is scheduled to start Oct. 23.

Following the dismissal, the city also concluded its own probe.

“Our internal investigation has concluded and coupled with the dismissal of the related indictment, I have asked Chief Walls to return to duty,” Walsh wrote.

“As I have said from the start, Chief Walls did absolutely nothing wrong,” Walls’ attorney, Jay Hochberg, said in an email to the Ketchikan newspaper. “(Walls) used reasonable and proportionate force to detain an intoxicated man who had just committed an assault in his presence. He is a dedicated public servant whose actions were entirely authorized by law."

Walls worked in law enforcement for 25 years and was commander of several districts of the New Orleans Police Department before being hired in December 2021 by Ketchikan, a community of just under 14,000 people located on an island in southeast Alaska. It is a major port for city-sized cruise ships coming to Alaska. ___

This story has been updated to correct the police chief's last name in one reference. It is Walls, not Walsh.