In a press conference on Friday, the Fairbanks Police Department said prosecutors will not file criminal charges against FPD Sergeant Gregory Foster for fatal shooting James Robert Richards, Jr., 28, of Fairbanks. Richards was fatally shot in the summer of 2016 after he allegedly threatened people, fled from police, and took a hostage. In the press release issued by the Office of Special Prosecutions, officials investigating the actions of Foster say they did not aim to “determine if Sgt. Foster’s conduct was appropriate under any applicable use-of-force policy.” Instead, the inquiry was limited to a simple decision of whether or not criminal charges were appropriate. According to investigators, they are not. “At the time of the fatal shooting, Sgt. Foster reasonably believed that Mr. Richards was attempting to flee from a recently committed violent assault and while fleeing, had taken a hostage. Under these circumstances, criminal charges are not appropriate,” Supervising Assistant Attorney General Robert E. Henderson wrote in a statement.
The investigation summary reveals more details regarding the nature of the incident that led to Richards’ death, as well as includes multiple video sources showing the shooting itself. FPD said they were called on the scene after Richards assaulted (by “pistol whipping”) two residents, firing a bullet into the wall, and “demanding money and drugs.” He then walked away from the apartment, where FPD made contact with him. In the report, police say they called out to him several times, but he did not respond. Two officers fired their taser rounds at Richards, but neither were effective in stunning him. Police say the situation boiled to a head when Richards took the arm of an elderly man and continued to walk away, ignoring police orders to stop. Investigators say officers “believed that Mr. Richards was using the male as a human shield.” Solomon Roberts, the elderly man in question, later said he was not being pulled or threatened by Richards during the encounter.
At that point, Foster fired twice from his issued duty rifle. “Both rounds struck Mr. Richards in the head, fatal shooting him nearly instantaneously,” the statement said. Following the shooting, many in the community expressed concerns about the possibility of race playing a factor in the incident, as Richards was Alaska Native. At a memorial event shortly after, community members spoke out regarding that possibility. Ricko DeWilde, an organizer of the event, said the Native community has had a contentious relationship with the Fairbanks Police Department, and expressed frustration regarding the way in which the police force investigate themselves in cases of misconduct. “We sit back and wait for years for a thorough investigation that they conduct on themselves,” DeWilde said. “That makes zero sense to me. As a Native community we need to step forward and look into the issues and look into them closely.”
To help alleviate these concerns, the investigation was carried out by a the Office of Special Prosecution. Additionally, FPD released dashboard camera footage and body camera footage, both displaying the events leading up to the shooting, as well as the shooting itself. In the video, Richards is seen positioned to the side of Roberts putting the man in between Richards and the officers on the street. Several officers can be seen following behind Richards, as well as Foster, who “took cover behind Deputy Chief Johnson’s patrol vehicle.” When Richards approaches the vehicle Foster is standing behind, he opens fire. The report concludes that based on Richards’ activity, as well as the information known to Foster at the time, Foster’s “actions, given the totality of the circumstances, were not objectively unreasonable.”