Three officers with the Kodiak police department were involved in the pepper spraying of Nick Pletnikoff, who was born with autism, before arresting him. The police were alerted to the 29-year-old after tourists claimed he had entered their car and was rifling through the contents of the vehicle.
Kathleen Gambling, Phillip Christman and Sergeant Francis de la Fuente, the officers who arrested Pletnikoff, have been the target of serious criticism from the community. Some have accused them of using excessive force with the autistic man.
The incident happen in October of 2015 but the video was released on December 31st. Police had the option of releasing it earlier but chose not to. They said, it was to protect the identity of Nick and his mother, who is his guardian.
This is more than likely an excuse to have maintained possession of the footage for as long as possible. No one wants a video of their employees traumatizing an autistic man and releasing it on new years eve would hopefully lessen the public outcry.
The altercation started with police asking for Nick’s ID but escalated quickly to a struggle when he replied “I don’t”. The officer closet to Nick spins him around and slams him on the hoof of an SUV. The jackboot mechanically states, “stop resisting” as he does. The phrase stop resisting is a catch-all that exonerates officers from any wrong doing based on the claim that the suspect was resisting. It’s a meaningless statement. In this case the officers were preventing Nick from complying by holding one of his arms and smashing his face into the ground.
The entire time that the officers are wrestling with Nick, he doesn’t appear to have any understanding as to the cause of their assault and repeatedly asks “Can I go?” He also apologizes constantly and begs to go home.
One of the officers repeatedly call Nick by his name and tells him to be cool. If he knew who Nick was and that he was special needs why didn’t he try to stop the officers and explain that Nick was autistic and more than likely was incapable of comprehending the situation and try to stop the officers where being so aggressive?
The officers involved claim that their use of force was justified based on the situation.
Judy Pletnickoff, Nicks mother, told the police after the arrest that Nick often gets into neighbors cars but he never steals anything, he just likes cars. De La Fuente added the exchange to his report.
She expressed her disbelief for the officers actions and claims they traumatized her son who was never charged with a crime.
My God, I can’t believe you did that. I’ve always had such respect for you,” she told Sgt. de la Fuente.
Sgt. De La Fuente defended their actions that day by telling her that they had no idea her son was autistic. This is flat out lie. Multiple officers wrote in their narratives, Officer Christman realized that Nick was special needs “during the struggle and before the pepper spray was deployed.
On approach, 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,” Christman wrote.
I spoke with Patrick Robert, one of Nick’s co workers and friends, who told me he was in Kodiak when Nick was assaulted. He described Nick as a “real nice guy.” They worked at the same hospital and Nick would stop by his department with deliveries of mail and supplies.
He was quick to remind everyone that 5 o’clock was quitting time and made everyone smile. Patrick told me, it would be impossible for Nick to be a thief as he was a mail handler and that requires a background check. Granted nothing is impossible but it’s highly unlikely that Nick was going around stealing.
When I asked if he knew about Nick’s habit of entering random cars. Patrick told me he wasn’t sure but thought that Nick may have mistaken the vehicle for his shuttle. He also believes that if the people weren’t from out of town the cops never would have been called.
Patrick concluded by expressing his disbelief for the situation and can’t believe in a town where everyone knows everyone the police would treat someone they knew was autistic in such an aggressive manner.
It’s a really small and tight community there. Everyone pretty much knows everyone. In the video you can hear one of the cops say his name, which means he knew Nick. Why that cop didn’t stop the other cops? There’s just no excuse for this. Most of the people on the island are outraged. As far as I know the cops still working there. The cops are saying the police acted with in reason.
Police are not trained communicators. They aren’t even capable of communicating with each other. Instead of deescalating a delicate situation their initiations of force only escalated the interaction and resulted with officers treating someone who probably wasn’t even able to understand their vicious actions.