By Hannah Heimbuch
A Homer man is dead following a struggle with an Alaska State Trooper last Wednesday evening, which ended with the man shooting himself with the trooper’s firearm.
According to the State Medical Examiner’s Office, Aaron Michael Rael-Catholic, 24, died of a single gunshot wound to the head. A recent release from the Alaska State Troopers states that a civilian witness saw Rael-Catholic shoot himself with Trooper David G. Chaffin’s pistol. Chaffin has worked for the Alaska State Troopers for five years, and is currently stationed at the Anchor Point post.
Troopers initially received a domestic violence report, at approximately 8:17 p.m. on the evening of April 2. A woman reported that her ex-boyfriend was assaulting her at her home. The two then apparently entered separate vehicles and left the residence.
The ex-boyfriend – later identified as Rael-Catholic – “rammed his vehicle into the female victim’s vehicle,” the trooper dispatch states. The collision took place on McLay Road, approximately four miles east of Homer.
Trooper Chaffin reported to the scene of the accident, after which a struggle ensued when he attempted to arrest Rael-Catholic. During the altercation that followed the collision, the trooper deployed both a taser and pepper spray in an attempt to arrest Rael-Catholic. The two wrestled to the ground. Rael-Catholic reportedly gained control of the trooper’s pistol, and fatally shot himself in the head.
The details of the struggle, as well as those surrounding the fatal gunshot, are under close review by the Alaska Bureau of Investigation.
“We are investigating the incident just like we would a trooper involved shooting,” said Alaska State Trooper spokeswoman Megan Peters. “Following the incident, Chaffin was afforded by (the Department of Public Safety) the standard 72-hour administrative leave, which is protocol for any investigation being handled as a trooper involved shooting. The administrative leave has concluded.”
Continued evaluation of evidence collected at the scene, and the autopsy report provided by the State Medical Examiner’s Office, is being conducted in Anchorage.
There is no further information available from the troopers at this time, Peters said, as the investigation is ongoing. That includes information regarding whether or not drugs or alcohol were a factor in the incident, as toxicology reports generally take four to eight weeks to come back, she said.
Several McLay Road neighbors were aware that something serious had occurred in their East End neighborhood, after hearing sirens and seeing signs of a confrontation, but were unsure of exactly what had happened.
Christie Hill and her husband were returning to their China Poot Street home via McLay Road Wednesday evening when they saw an overturned truck, a black SUV and a trooper vehicle on McLay.
“When we were driving up the road, a cop had a guy at gun point,” Hill said. “It looked like he had someone at gunpoint on the ground.”
Hill could not see the person on the ground, or the condition that individual was in. She did not see any other law enforcement or civilians at the time.
“We saw the truck up on its side,” Hill said, “and then a black SUV behind it.”
The trooper used his free hand to indicate that they should turn around, Hill said, though they were not close enough to hear anything.
“We didn’t have the window down or anything,” she said. “We just saw him waving his arm at us.”
Hill and her husband turned their vehicle around immediately, she said, and continued to the East End Road junction with China Poot Street, and drove home that way. She and her other neighbors were very concerned, she said, and until the trooper dispatch was released the next morning had no idea what had happened.
They drove across Dietz Lane, which connects to McLay and looked down toward the scene, Hill said, which is when they heard and saw additional sirens and emergency vehicles arrive.
“The whole neighborhood was kind of wondering what was going on,” Hill said. “Just all of a sudden there’s every cop and trooper in town there.”
McLay resident Hayley Norris realized something serious was happening near the end of her driveway when she heard numerous emergency vehicles arrive.
“I didn’t hear anything until all of the sirens,” Norris said. “No car wreck, no gun shot.”
When she did walk to the end of her driveway to try to find out what had happened, an officer promptly asked her to return to her home. Before she left, she saw two women walking with an emergency responder toward an ambulance.
“One of them was comforting the other,” Norris said. “She was obviously extremely distraught.”
According to Hill, law enforcement activity on McLay continued well into the early morning hours.
“We went by this morning and saw the marks on the road and the glass from the truck,” she said.
The woman who filed the domestic violence report was transported to South Peninsula Hospital for evaluation. Chaffin was not injured in the confrontation.
An autopsy of Rael-Catholic, who was declared deceased at the scene, was conducted by the State Medical Examiner’s Office in the days following the incident.
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