Participants in Homestead melee dispute charges

Tuesday, November 22, 2011 - 20:00
Group was gathered in Eagle River for Wasilla man’s wake

Three Mat-Su residents arrested in a September disturbance involving Anchorage police at the Homestead Lounge are fighting the charges against them.

Police came to the Eagle River bar on Regency Drive the night of Sept. 11. Reports at the time described the situation as an alcohol-fueled melee involving a bar full of people who turned on officers making a routine bar check.

Police said they tackled one patron after he slapped an officer’s arm. They pepper-sprayed another. The three men spent the night in jail.

But the group didn’t just randomly happen to be at the bar that night. They were there for a wake, a celebration of life for 23-year-old Ross Ripple, a 2006 Eagle River High School graduate who died in a high-speed car crash in downtown Wasilla on Sept. 5.

At least one of the people arrested said the police were out of line, especially given the circumstances.

Ripple’s father, 48-year-old Palmer resident Loren Ripple Jr., was the man accused of slapping the officer’s arm. Ripple intervened as police asked his daughter for her ID. Police say he slapped an officer’s arm as the officer moved to push him back, according to APD reports.

Ripple, who owned a plowing and trucking company in Eagle River for 17 years, said he never touched the officer. He just wanted to protect his daughter.

“Six days ago I lost my son, he’s jacking with my daughter, I don’t know what’s going on. I was trying to defuse it — do we all need to leave?” Ripple said in an interview last week. “I said, ‘Hey, that’s my daughter!’ The next thing I know I’m on the ground.”

Ripple, who is 6-foot-six-inches tall and weighs 265 pounds, still suffers numbness in the top of one hand from the take-down, handcuffs and being crammed into a patrol car, his wife Tana said.

“I’ve got a formal complaint registered with the police department over the whole thing,” Ripple said. “They’re held to a higher standard than Joe Public. There’s more to policing than just arresting everybody in the bar and hauling them off.”

A police spokesman said he couldn’t confirm any complaint as a matter of policy. The department investigated the incident and the officers were found to have acted appropriately, police spokesman Lt. Dave Parker said.


Wake turns ugly

The family held Ripple’s celebration of life at the Eagle River Elks Lodge at 3 p.m. on Sept. 11. By 9:30 p.m., friends and family started to fill the Homestead’s bar area.

A video shot by the bar’s surveillance camera shows young men in baseball caps, untucked collared shirts and jeans mingled with young women, exchanging hugs and occasional high-fives or toasts. The Ripples said about a third of the 30 people at the bar stayed sober.

Meanwhile, outside the bar, Anchorage police Officer Michael Farr watched the Homestead as he waited for other officers to conduct a bar check, according to Farr’s report. The officer spotted an apparently intoxicated woman swaying outside the bar who needed help from two friends to get back inside, according to his report. He later identified the woman as Rendy Ripple, 22, Ross Ripple’s sister and Loren Ripple’s daughter.

Officers Ian Lewis and Christopher Alexander arrived, and the trio walked into the bar. Farr spotted Rendy Ripple on a stool near the bar. He wrote in his report that she looked passed out, leaning forward with her head down.

It’s unclear from the video whether Ripple is passed out or talking on a cell phone.

Farr said he asked Ripple for her ID. She pulled it out but dropped it. Lewis stands next to Farr. Alexander stands a few feet away.

The video then shows Loren Ripple approaching the group. There is no audio, so it’s impossible to know what if anything was said but it’s clear that Ripple and Officer Lewis made contact.

Ripple said he got between Lewis and a game table just behind him, but then Lewis backed up and pushed him into the table. Tana, his wife, said it looked like the officer intentionally backed into Ripple.

Lewis, in his report, wrote that Ripple “bumped me from behind as he walked by, which caught my attention. I then saw him walk to less than arm’s reach of Ofc FARR to confront him. I heard RIPPLE loudly exclaim that he was the girl’s father.”

The officers then wrote that Farr ordered Ripple to back off but instead Ripple slapped at the officer’s arm when he brought it up to keep him from coming closer.

On the video, the action moves to quickly to follow. Ripple goes down suddenly. Lewis wrote in his report that he “estimated (Ripple) to be a considerable officer safety threat due to his size and apparent aggression.” He applied a defensive hold to Ripple’s head and brought him to the ground.

Lewis said then 30-year-old Palmer resident Reagan Sawyer (Ross Ripple’s brother) approached him, yelling. He said he repeatedly commanded them to back off and sprayed them with pepper spray after they didn’t.

Alexander handcuffed another man — 32-year-old Wasilla resident Robert Hoch — after he tried to get between police and Loren Ripple. Hoch later told police “he saw the police going after RIPPLE who was the father of a good friend of his,” according to Alexander’s report.

Hoch told the officer the group was in mourning from the loss of a friend.

The police officers escorted Ripple, Sawyer and Hoch past an angry crowd, the officers wrote in their reports. Five additional police, including a sergeant, arrived to help.

Ripple was charged with assault on a peace officer, resisting/interfering with arrest and disorderly conduct. Sawyer and Hoch were charged with resisting/interfering and disorderly conduct.

All three men have hired attorneys.


Putting bars ‘on notice’

Bar manager Dan Graeber said he wished things that night could have gone down differently. Graeber said he was surprised to see a bar check on a Sunday night. He was also surprised by the speed at which things turned physical — about three minutes after the officers walked into the bar.

The bar submitted a copy of a surveillance videotape of part of the incident to police and cooperated fully, he said.

“I don’t have anything to hide,” Graeber said. “We didn’t do anything wrong.”

The officers involved in the arrests said through a police spokesman that they didn’t want to be interviewed.

The Sunday night check wasn’t surprising, police said. Officers throughout the municipality are watching bars more closely, spokesman Lt. Dave Parker said.

“We want the alcohol industry to be on notice that we are taking a little bit more of an aggressive posture when it comes to checking on alcohol-serving establishments because that’s where DUIs come from, that’s where sexual assaults often come from,” Parker said. “The overserving has gotten out of control.”

Some supporters of the Homestead say the officers who came into the bar didn’t have the experience to defuse the situation — and escalated it with their actions — because APD starts out rookies in Eagle River.

Parker said that “urban legend” needs to stop.

“You have to be a pretty trusted officer before they assign you to areas — and Eagle River is one of those areas — where you’re going to be functioning without a supervisor a lot of the time,” he said.


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