“The Killing of Eric Hash” by Frank HopperTweet
Alaska State Trooper Shoots Athabascan Man Then Denies Him Medical Assistance
A week before he was shot dead by an Alaska State Trooper in the tiny Ahtna Athabascan village of Copper Center, Eric Hash had a vision of his own death.
“He wouldn’t tell me what it was,” his mother Evelyn told Last Real Indians. “He just said he had a vision of something that disturbed him. I found out later he told other people about it, too. He told them he’d seen he was going to die.”
A few days after having the vision, Eric lay in a pool of his own blood, writhing in pain, shot twice by a state trooper who some say had a chip on his shoulder against Alaska Native men. Within two hours, Eric was dead.
A Thoughtful Man, Suddenly Gone
“Eric is a very caring man. He’s very thoughtful,” Shanna Pete, his longtime partner, told Last Real Indians. Her voice frequently broke as she described that night. Perhaps most striking was how she said “is” instead of “was,” as though he were still alive.
“He’s almost intuitive with his family,” she said. “He feels their pain. If somebody is going through a hard time, he immediately knows and calls and he goes and sits with them and helps them in any way he can.”
On the evening of July 5, Shanna spoke with Eric on the phone. She was in Anchorage with their two grown daughters. He was in their home town of Copper Center, over 200 miles away, staying temporarily with his mother. Eric always called several times each day, checking in on Shanna and their daughters. July 5 was no different.
“He seemed fine,” Shanna said. “He asked how we were all doing.”
Then, sometime after 3 a.m. the next morning, Shanna received a call from Eric’s sister saying he’d been shot by an Alaska State Trooper. He was wounded, laying on the ground outside his mother’s apartment complex. The officer who shot him, Trooper Kamau Leigh, of the Glennallen detachment, would not let anyone near Eric, saying it was a crime scene. A pool of blood grew around where Eric lay.
Details Reveal a Senseless Shooting
Eric had arrived at his mother’s apartment that night acting belligerent. Shanna told Last Real Indians she was surprised when she heard Eric had been drinking, but she thinks she knows why. They had both been going through a long period of hardship. Eric was mourning the recent loss of his brother and niece. Also, Shanna had been seriously ill for months. In January, she was in a car accident that left her bedridden.
Eric did his best to take care of Shanna. For months he stayed by her side and cared for her the best he could. Shanna lost her job, her car and her apartment. Eric also lost his job. They struggled to survive without income in the remote Ahtna village.
Shanna went to visit their daughters in Anchorage and Eric stayed with his mother in Copper Center. She thinks this long period of loss, illness and hardship may be why he began drinking.
Eric’s mother Evelyn told Last Real Indians the night of his death he arrived intoxicated at her apartment after 2 a.m. and began acting violently. He pushed her onto the couch but never hit her. She called the police, thinking they would take him to jail for the night to sleep it off.
Unnamed witnesses say Trooper Leigh sped up to the apartment complex, slammed on his brakes, jumped out of his vehicle, and immediately fired four shots at Eric. Reportedly, Leigh said nothing to Eric before firing. Eric was hit twice, once in the armpit and once in the hip. He fell to the ground, but remained conscious.
Police reports state Eric approached Trooper Leigh in a threatening manner with a container of “flammable, incapacitating liquid.” Evelyn says it was a small can of charcoal lighter fluid, about one fourth full. Evelyn didn’t see the shooting, but feels Trooper Leigh fired immediately, as soon as he arrived.
‘Why Didn’t They Let Anyone Help Him?’ Village Demands
Nearly three weeks after Trooper Leigh shot Eric, a community meeting was held in Copper Center. Villagers grilled representatives from the Alaska State Troopers and the state Attorney General’s office about why Trooper Leigh wouldn’t allow anyone to approach Eric after he’d been shot.
“Why wouldn’t they let anyone give him medical assistance?” an unnamed man at the meeting demanded to know.
Eric’s mother Evelyn told Last Real Indians Eric lay on the ground writhing in pain and bleeding for a longtime before medics arrived. She thinks it was about 45 minutes. He died of his injuries about two hours later at a nearby hospital.
Several people who lived at the apartment complex attempted to approach Eric after Leigh shot him. One was a trained Emergency Medical Technician who announced herself to the trooper. But Leigh would not let anyone near him.
Officials from the state Attorney General’s office at the meeting refused to explain what happened that night, saying the incident is under investigation and they are unable to comment on it.
The Growing Rift Between Native Villages and State Troopers
Many villagers spoke of a growing rift between Alaska State Troopers and Native people. Most said they are afraid to call troopers for help because of the risk to them or their family members of being shot.
Many said they remember a time when troopers were friendly and got to know Native villagers. But in recent years new troopers are aloof toward them and seem to favor serving predominantly white communities such as the nearby town of Glennallen, where Trooper Leigh is based.
Gary Harrison, traditional chief of the nearby Native village of Chickaloon, spoke of the need to train new troopers about Native people and cultures. His village instituted a “COPS” program in which a Native resident was trained as a “Peace Officer” to assist state law enforcement.
“It’s not easy working with troopers,” he admitted.
Rose Tyone, president of the Native village of Chitina, also spoke about the apparent racism of some troopers.
“We as a council sent a letter to the commissioner stating our feelings that this trooper not return,” she said.
Perhaps the most poignant words came from Eric’s sister Carlene, who spoke about Eric’s youth and how he almost lost his left arm when he was just 12 and worked diligently with a physical therapist to get its use back. She said he earned his Commercial Driver’s License at age 18 and also helped many other villagers get their CDL too because he wanted them to succeed.
“This was Eric Hash,” she said. “He was someone’s partner, someone’s brother, someone’s father, and he mattered… He mattered.”
By Frank Hopper
Native American Journalist * 4-Time NAJA Award Winner