Lawsuit on officer-involved shooting has been dismissed

December 9, 2020 – News

The plaintiff in a wrongful death lawsuit dropped its lawsuit against all of the defendants: City and Borough of Juneau, Juneau Police Department Chief Ed Mercer, and JPD Officer James Esbenshade. The Estate of Kelly Michael Stephens, plaintiff, and the defendants filed a joint stipulation of dismissal in federal court on December 2. The federal court dismissed the entire lawsuit on December 4, 2020.

“I extend my heartfelt sympathy to the friends and family of Mr. Stephens,” City Manager Rorie Watt said. “Every day we ask our police officers to navigate extremely difficult situations and, infrequently, an officer will find themselves in a situation where they use their service weapon. Last December, I asked the community to be patient, and to let the external reviews, internal reviews, and the independent judiciary handle this matter. Those processes have all concluded. I thank the community for its patience.”

Last year, while responding to a report of a disturbance with gunshots fired, Juneau Police Officer Esbenshade was confronted by Kelly Stephens, who threatened to kill Officer Esbenshade. After giving warnings and attempting to retreat, Officer Esbenshade shot Mr. Stephens, who was pronounced deceased shortly after.

Following an investigation of the officer-involved shooting, the State of Alaska Office of Special Prosecutions wrote in a March 6, 2020 letter that the State of Alaska would not bring criminal charges against Officer Esbenshade because it found the officer’s actions legally justified. On July 1, 2020, Kelly Stephens’ parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit in federal court against the City of Borough of Juneau and members of the Juneau Police Department.

Now, the joint stipulation dismisses the case with prejudice, which means the case is completely resolved. There is no settlement agreement, no exchange of money, and no liability on any of the defendants. Each party is responsible for its own costs.

The death of Kelly Stephen remains a tragic event. The City and Borough of Juneau and the Juneau Police Department continue to extend its condolences to the family and friends of Kelly Stephens.

For more information, contact City Manager Rorie Watt at 586-5240 or Rorie.Watt@juneau.org; or Municipal Attorney Robert Palmer at 586-5242 or Robert.Palmer@juneau.org.