Arcata Police Det. Sgt. Todd Dokweiler (middle) speaks to investigators at the scene of an officer-involved shooting at the Arcata Plaza on Sept. 9, 2017. (Times-Standard file)
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The fatal shooting of Tennessee native Ervin Sweat Jr. on the Arcata Plaza in September 2017 was legally justified, the Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office announced in a news release Tuesday.

“We think it’s the correct decision,” said Arcata police Lt. Todd Dokweiler on Tuesday afternoon.

Sweat Jr.

The incident began around 1:30 a.m. Sept. 9, 2017, when officers were called for a report of a fight on the plaza. University Police officer Louis Altic was investigating when a bystander pointed out the vehicle that a man with a gun had entered.

Video shot from Arcata police officer Kent Falkenstine’s vehicle show events as they unfolded from there. Sweat exited the rear passenger side of the vehicle and pointed a .40-caliber pistol at Altic. Sweat then fired two shots, one of which hit Altic in the upper thigh.

Arcata police Matthew O’Donovan and Altic returned fire, firing nine rounds, all of which hit Sweat.

“Officer Altic received a bullet wound before he and Officer O’Donovan fired their weapons, removing any doubt about the justification for the actions of the two officers,” said District Attorney Maggie Fleming in a statement. “I’m sure the community shares my great appreciation for the exceptional efforts of officers Altic and O’Donovan to protect the public.”

Altic’s shooting was the first time an officer had been shot in the line of duty since 1980. Altic was treated at Mad River Community Hospital.

Dokweiler called it a straight-forward situation in which an officer reacted appropriately.

“As Mr. Sweat exits the car, he fires a firearm and fires across the street,” he said. “In an event like that, it’s just a reaction for the officer. There’s not a lot of gray area.”

He said that the involved officer still works with the Arcata Police Department.

The release from the district attorney’s office states eyewitness statement corroborate events.

“Detectives interviewed Sweat’s companions,” the release stated. “Each confirmed the report of a preceding fight and claimed no knowledge of Sweat’s possession of a gun until he brandished it just before the shooting started.”

An autopsy found Sweat died from multiple gunshot wounds. The toxicology report showed he had a blood alcohol level of 0.12 and had recently used cocaine.

Sweat had several run-ins with local law enforcement in the past few years, including interactions with Fortuna and Arcata police. The weapon he used in the shooting was reported stolen out of Eureka in 2015.

The release stated the family of Sweat was notified of the decision. The family filed a wrongful death claim with the city earlier this year.

University Police Cheif Donn Peterson did not return a request for comment before the publishing deadline.

Ruth Schneider can be reached at 707-441-0520.

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