Charges dropped in 2011 Homestead melee

Wednesday, April 4, 2012 - 20:00
Prosecutors have no comment on the matter

Anchorage municipal prosecutors have dropped all charges against a trio of Mat-Su men arrested during a wake at Eagle River’s Homestead Lounge last September.

The men were part of a group of about 30 people who gathered at the bar the evening of Sept. 11 for a post-memorial remembrance of Ross Ripple, the 23-year-old Eagle River High School grad killed Sept. 5 in a high-speed crash in downtown Wasilla.

Police described a drunken melee in which up to 20 people surrounded them during a routine bar check on a Sunday night, forcing them to subdue several participants with pepper spray and defensive holds.

They arrested the father of Ross Ripple — Palmer resident Loren Ripple Jr. — on charges of assaulting an officer, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. They also arrested Ross Ripple’s brother, 30-year-old Reagan Sawyer, and 32-year-old Robert Hoch, a family friend, on charges of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

The charges were quietly dismissed in mid-February.

Municipal prosecutors did not respond to several phone and e-mail requests for interviews.

Loren Ripple’s attorney said the dismissal proves his client’s contention all along: he did nothing wrong and it was police who got too aggressive.

“It was a complete overreaction on the part of law enforcement,” said Wasilla attorney Jon Marc Petersen, who represented Ripple in the case.

Petersen said he never heard from prosecutors as to why they decided to dismiss the charges.

Anchorage police spokesman Lt. Dave Parker said the dismissal doesn’t necessarily reflect a problem with the way officers involved handled the arrests.

It’s APD’s job to make arrests, Parker said. Prosecutors decide whether the arrest met probable-cause requirements and take it from there. Cases might be dismissed due to new evidence or witnesses, or even if prosecutors are too busy on other cases.

“This is not an unusual occurrence,” Parker said.

Ripple said he requested an investigation into the incident from APD. At the time, Parker said the officers were found to have acted appropriately.

Police visited the Homestead that Sunday night after an officer parked outside the bar spotted what he described as a visibly intoxicated woman whose friends had to help her back inside, according to police reports.

Once inside, a video surveillance tape shows, the officers approached a woman, 22-year-old Rendy Ripple, Ross’ sister, who was sitting near the bar with her head down.

Loren Ripple Jr., who is 6 feet 6 inches tall, walked quickly over to the officers standing in a circle. Ripple and Officer Ian Lewis bumped into each other; the officer in his report said that Ripple bumped him, but Ripple said Lewis intentionally backed into him.

The officers said Ripple slapped Officer Michael Farr’s arm as he asked Rendy Ripple for her ID.

In the video, it’s not clear whether any physical contact is made. Loren Ripple suddenly drops to the ground. Lewis, in his report, said he deemed Ripple to be a threat due to his “size and apparent aggression.” He applied a hold on his head and brought him down.

The officers used pepper spray to subdue the rest of the group.

Ripple, for his part, said he never offered any resistance.

“My 23-year-old old son just died a week ago and I was still in a daze over that,” he said.

Ross Ripple graduated from Eagle River High School in 2006. Loren Ripple owned an Eagle River plowing and trucking company for 17 years.

Ripple said he responded with the “military bearing” he learned when he served from 1984 until 1991 with the U.S. Air Force.

He said he was glad to see the charges dismissed but frustrated that the case remains on his record.

Ripple said he still wishes the officers had handled the situation differently. He also wishes the officers had taken the time to find out why the group was in the Homestead to begin with. Maybe they would have handled things differently, Ripple said.

“They should have temporarily detained the three of us, sorted out the situation, figured out what the situation was (and said) ‘We’re sorry we interrupted your deal. Have a nice night,’” he said.

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