Kodiak resident Brent Watkins silently demonstrated outside the Kodiak Police station Friday, Sept. 18, 2015, two days after a friend with learning disabilities was contacted by three Kodiak Police officers. Jay Barrett/KMXT photo
A Wednesday evening incident described in the Kodiak Police Department’s publicly-released blotter simply as “Suspicious Circumstances, all OK,” nevertheless prompted a firestorm of hundreds of outraged comments online and one man silently protesting in front of the police department on Friday.
That man was Brent Watkins, who held a 6-by-8-foot sign that read “Heroes don’t beat up handicap kids.” He described the incident on Steller Avenue.
“This kid is a not a drug user, does not drink, completely sober kid. He’s got challenges – he can’t express himself very well. On the street he grew up on here in Kodiak, Steller, it’s a real short street, everybody knows him,” Watkins said. “He went out to check his mail (and) stopped and looked at a car on his way back. Three officers responded, claiming he was trying to steal the car. Apparently while he was down, he was handcuffed, then on the ground, knee to the head and maced in the face.”
The young man Watkins is referring to is Nick Pletnikoff, who has a developmental disability.
“Oh he’s a heck of a kid. Always pleasant, always ready to say hi, greets you if he knows you,” Watkins said. “But he can’t express himself really well, and that’s where things went south.”
Watkins pointed out that the kind of training police officers across the nation get likely contributed to the rapid escalation of the KPD’s encounter with Pletnikoff.
“If the first reaction from the training that our officers have is to go directly to violence, if we can no longer distinguish between a handicapped person and somebody that’s on drugs or drunk and a true threat, then our training needs to be looked at very carefully,” he said.
Watkins said the public response to his silent demonstration was largely supportive.
“I’ve had a few negative folks and several people have stopped by to ask what’s going on. And the focus has been we need citizen oversight, and the training that these guys are receiving is not working,” he said. “And people have been, when they reailze this is not an anti-cop kind of statement, it’s just ‘get a discussion going, we’ve got to change things.’”
The response from passing Kodiak Police officers, Watkins said, wasn’t quite as positive.
“I’ve had a couple cops flip me off and a few give me the finger-gun thing. Flipping me off? Eh, that’s just an opinion. In uniform, probably not the best time to do it, but it’s just an opinion,” he said. “The finger gun thing? That speaks to where the attitude goes from the training here. It’s wrong. It’s just wrong.”
Kodiak Police Chief Ronda Wallace has been out of town, though the KPD did issue a statement late Friday acknowledging the public uproar and that the chief’s office is reviewing the situation and will be making an official statement today.