The Alaska Native teenager at the epicenter of a tasing incident in Sitka last year has hired legal counsel. Though he’s not yet filed suit, the lawyer representing Franklin Hoogendorn intends to bring his case before a Sitka jury.
Myron Angstman has run a private practice out of Bethel since 1977. He’s no stranger to cases involving police conduct on the job and has represented both parties.
In 2007, he defended a Bethel police officer in a case concerning a taser gun and won. “I kind of have an idea what the rules are and what the limits are. So this case looks like it’s one where there is a problem with the conduct of the officers. That’s my view,” said Angstman.
And that view – along with a six-minute video of Hoogendorn in police custody – convinced Angstman to take the case. He said, “The whole case is contained in that videotape, for the most part and I looked at the videotape and it sure looked like a doable case to me after I reviewed it.”
The six minute video was uploaded to YouTube on October 29th, over a year after the arrest, where it quickly made the rounds on social media and accumulated over 37,000 views. Angstman says Hoogendorn contacted his office shortly after.
Angstman then notified the Sitka of Hoogendorn’s intent to sue. Municipal attorney Robin Koutchak says the city’s insurance company has retained its own legal counsel to organize a defense, Cynthia Ducey of Anchorage. Last week, the city also released its police department Operating Procedures Manual to the public – a 342 page document.
Maegan Bosak, Sitka’s Community Development Director, said the city wants to be open about how arrests happen in Sitka. “The city decided that there was a need to be fully transparent, and wanted to make it available to read through and use as needed.”
The FBI is leading its own investigation into Hoogendorn’s arrest. Angstman says that whatever the bureau uncovers will be brought into court room.
For him, the video – with the police procedures as a measuring stick – is what this case is all about. He said, “It doesn’t really matter what I think the tape says or what you think the tape says or what the police chief thinks the tape says or what the city manager thinks the tape says, because the jury has the final decision as to what that tape says.”
Sitka Police Chief Sheldon Schmitt reviewed the footage shortly after, and determined that the arrest – while uncomfortable to watch – fell within policy guidelines. Furthermore, Schmitt says the video only shows a small slice of the police encounter with Hoogendorn, which began when officers confronted him outside of a Sitka bar.
In a previous interview, Schmitt says we’re not seeing the whole story. “He’s not giving them his hands. He’s pushing off. At one point he tries to kick the officers. And having just fought with him, they’re still concerned that he’s going to fight more. Hence the use of the taser. They’re trying to get him to comply.”
Angstman considers that argument a moot point. He thinks the actions of the jailer and two police officers as they restrain Hoogendorn, strip him, and repeatedly tase him speak for themselves. “Unfortunately for the police, by the time the video was turned on, Franklin was walking into the room without any resistance or problem,” Angstman said. “Any decent policeman would set aside whatever happened on the street and say, now that we have you in custody, we start new.”
At the time of his arrest, Hoogendorn was a senior at the state’s all-Alaska boarding school, Mt. Edgecumbe High School.
Academic principal Bernie Gurule says Hoogendorn had no run-ins with the law and was in good academic standing at the time of his arrest in September, 2014. He was signed out for the weekend by a family member, allowing him to leave the campus and visit Sitka when police saw him enter a local bar.
The following Monday, Gurule says Hoogendorn came into this office and asked to shut the door behind him. “To me he said that he has been busted for underage drinking. He wanted me to know that, because he was sure he was going to be in the paper very soon,” Gurule said.
Except for the most serious infractions, Mt. Edgecumbe has a two-strikes-and-you’re-out-rule for student substance abuse. Hoogendorn’s previous offense took place on campus, so this incident was strike two.
Gurule recalled the day he turned himself in. “He was sorry. There was no question in my mind he had a lot of remorse for the mistake that he made and he mentioned that more than a couple of times. ‘I know that I’ve really made a mistake here. I really like Mt. Edgecumbe High School, but I know I will probably get what I deserve.'”
Gurule indefinitely suspended Hoogendorn two days after the arrest, on September 8th. But he adds that Hoogendorn didn’t talk about what happened that night, not about the jail cell, being held overnight, or the tasing. Neither the city nor the police department notified Mt. Edgecumbe that Hoogendorn had been arrested.
Gurule would not comment on that. He did, however, affirm that the incident has not compromised the school’s otherwise strong relationship with the Sitka Police Department. “We don’t’ have to call them very often, but when we do they respond very quickly. They respond very professionally. They treat all of our students very fairly. It doesn’t matter whether they are Alaskan Native or not.”
As for Hoogendorn, his lawyer says that he has returned to his home village of Koyuk and earned his high school diploma.