Fairbanks police use of force questioned, Mayor defends department
At the City Council Meeting on Monday, a Fairbanks attorney accused Fairbanks Police of excessive use of force. Bill Satterberg, a private defense attorney claims that his client Andrew Jimenez was subject to excessive use of force by Fairbanks Police during an interaction in July of 2019. According to a police report, Jimenez was contacted by FPD after Walmart employees called 911 to report an individual who had assaulted an employee.
While interacting with police, Jimenez was punched twice and pepper-sprayed to help police gain compliance according to a police report. Satterberg said the force was excessive and should be brought to the public’s attention.
"When this type of stuff happens, it shouldn't be covered up, it shouldn't be hushed down, treated as a personnel action, which is always the case. It was a personnel action, we can't discuss it. But rather I think the public has a right to know," Satterberg said.
Fairbanks Mayor Jim Matherly said the issue was addressed by police after Satterberg sent a letter.
"He [Jimenez] was not complying so the officer had to use, ‘use of force,’ which did include his hand. It was reviewed by the city, reviewed by the chief of police and it was found to be outside of our policy, so we took action and we are looking to retrain that officer," Matherly said.
He went on to say that every time an officer uses force, the incident is reviewed and if they determine that excessive force was used, they will retrain the officer and in some cases take disciplinary action or even terminate the officer.
However, Matherly said that police have a hard job and sometimes force is needed, "Being a police officer is extremely dangerous work. And police are human, they are only human and they have to make split-second decisions based on a number of factors, the circumstance, the threat, everything."
Out of the 22,000 calls, FPD responds to each year, Matherly said that less than 1% result in the use of force.
Satterberg said he decided to bring the issue up because he wants to bring awareness. "I am not doing this because of a political agenda, I am doing this because I thought it was something Fairbanks needs to know about. I am hoping that it will be a learning experience for everybody,” Satterberg said.
He also said that he wants accountability and more training. "I think better education, better selection of officers so that the people we put in the positions are qualified,” but that things are getting better. “I will tell you right now that in my opinion in the last 44 years that I have been in this town, I think the quality of police service has improved remarkably," Satterberg said.
Matherly said that the Fairbanks Police Department is continuing to train officers in non-violent methods of dealing with people and in cultural sensitivity training. However, some of the trainings were delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He said that Fairbanks police are ahead of much of Alaska in their training and accountability. He also encouraged anyone who has concerns about the police to email him, the chief of police, or one of the council members so they can look into the issue.