Kodiak, AK - On Wednesday, September 16, 28-year-old Nicholas Pletnikoff was checking his mail when he was approached by Kodiak police Officers Phillip Christman, Kathleen Gambling and Sergeant Francis de la Fuente. The encounter resulted in an incident that many community members are calling a case of excessive force.
According to Police, the officers were responding to a report of a man breaking into cars when they approached the 28-year-old autistic man. As officer Christman noted in his report,
"On approached [sic], I yelled for the subject to stop or I would pepper spray him. I then saw it was Nicholas Pletnikoff, who I recognized from personal contacts, and put my pepper spray away and pulled my handcuffs out to try to detain him."
Instead of attempting to de-escalate the situation with a man, who the officer knew was mentally disabled, he proceeded to grab Pletnikoff when he didn't answer their questions. Nicholas, most likely not fully understanding the situation due to his disability, exercised a natural human reaction by resisting his kidnapper. Unfortunately, when your would-be attackers wear a badge, there is always a guaranteed escalation of force.
In response to him failing to immediately submit to their authority, officers quickly tackled Nicholas, repeatedly drove his head into the pavement and, after a brief struggle, deemed it necessary to pepper spray the innocent, autistic man.
After police failed to respond to their inquiries, Nicholas' family hired attorney Josh Fitzgerald. On Thursday, a judge ordered Kodiak police to release the video of the incident in response to a lawsuit filed by the family.
Below is the video, which police had previously refused to release. Notice how the officer asks him for ID, despite knowing that he is Nick Pletnikoff. The screams of "I'm sorry" and "I want to go home" are horrifyingly similar to the video of Kelly Thomas.
A second video shows the tense aftermath when officers are confronted by Nicholas' mother Judy Pletnikoff, who immediately instructs the officers to remove the handcuffs from her son and informs them that she is taking him home.
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Although Nicholas was subjected to this level of force at the hands of police, he was not charged with any crime. City officials also stated that an investigation into the incident determined that the officers acted “professionally” and the level of force used was “minimal and necessary under the circumstances in order to maintain officer and community safety.”
Following this act of police violence, local resident Brent Watkins responded by staging a silent protest in front of the Kodiak police station holding a sign that stated simply "Heroes don't beat up handicap kids." When reached for comment Watkins remarked of Nicholas,
“Oh, he’s a heck of a kid. Always pleasant, always ready to say 'hi,' greets you if he knows you. But he can’t express himself really well, and that’s where things went south.”
Judy Pletnikoff has also been vocal about her displeasure with the way her son was treated. When asked about Nicholas' condition following the incident she said,
“He’s afraid. Definitely afraid of figures of authority and figures in the police. He’s definitely changed by it. But my biggest concerns is how to get him back to his former considerate, reasonable, happy self.”
This act of senseless violence is far from an isolated incident. In June of 2015, police were caught on video using a mentally ill man as "batting practice" repeatedly thrashing him with a torrent of baton strikes.
In addition to brutalizing the disabled, police have also become notorious for immediately resorting to deadly force when they confront mentally challenged individuals. Just last month we reported on the story of Michael Noel, whose mother had called 911 for medical help for her schizophrenic son, only for police to arrive and tragically gun him down.
The truly staggering numbers behind this trend were recently exposed by the Virginia-based Treatment Advocacy Center in their study, Overlooked in the Undercounted: The Role of Mental Illness in Fatal Law Enforcement Encounters. This shocking report found that the mentally ill have a 1,600% higher chance of being killed by police than average citizens.
Until Police are required to obtain training in dealing with the mentally disabled, this horrible trend will persist. It is time for us to demand a higher standard for ALL public servants.
Johnny Liberty is a researcher and investigative journalist. You can follow him on twitter @LibertyUnltd