Police Chief Jim Agner told the Petersburg Rotary Club Wednesday that he believed cases involving persons on the lower socio-economic level are not being prosecuted by the District Attorney’s Office in Juneau.
Without going into specifics, Agner said the home of a person being detained by the State was broken into and a flat screen television was stolen.
The Petersburg Police Department spent about $5,000 investigating the case and was able to interview a witness and the suspects alleged to have taken the property. They even recovered the television that was sold to a cab driver who later turned the property over to police.
According to a police synopsis of a conversation with the victim, it was related, “they went into my house, took my T.V. from my back bedroom. They drove it in a cab and sold it for a couple grams of coke and an ounce of weed. It was a trade deal…. The T.V. is only six months old with only a few hours. I really hope someone’s getting arrested for this.”
In another interview, police were told the victim agreed to give the suspects the TV in lieu of payment owed on the trucks. Yet others testified that no cocaine was traded for the TV, just pot.
Agner said police interviewed a person in the home who saw the TV being packed out of the house; verified the theft with a next door witness; interviewed the two persons taking the property and after investigation was told by the D.A. David Brower not to make the felony arrest.
Agner said Brower reported the PPD had not investigated the case well enough prior to the arrest and thus did not prosecute the case. In the meantime, the two suspects left the state and could not be extradited to face charges after the D.A. refused to take the case.
In a later interview, Agner said, “people on the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder don’t count. It’s becoming a pattern.
“Every case has holes in it. You can always find a reason not to prosecute,” Agner added.
“Shouldn’t these people be prosecuted?” Agner asked.
Furthermore, the chief noted, the theft of the television will never become a record since the D.A. refused to prosecute the case. “It’s as if the theft never happened,” he said.
Agner, who has had very public disagreements with prosecutor David Brower of the Dept. of Law in Juneau, recited his discussion with Petersburg’s new Assistant District Attorney Nick Polasky.
According to Agner, the D.A. said the theft victims were not credible along with other witnesses that could be called to testify at trial. The state also cited the cost to bring an out of state witness to court. Finally, since the television was recovered by police, and returned to its owner, the harm to the theft victim was minimal, according to Agner.
Agner also said prosecutors noted the case could have been pursued as a civil, not a criminal matter, since witnesses said payment for a vehicle purchase was in dispute between the victim and the suspects.
Assistant District Attorney Nick Polasky told the Pilot he could not discuss specifics of the case, which could violate the operational policies of his office.
Polasky emphasized that the credibility of witnesses in such a case is a big factor. “We’re trained to ask the question, ‘can we prove this case to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt?’”
If the witnesses in a case provide inconsistent statements, or cite corroborating details that are in conflict, it is a problem for prosecutors.
“We do pursue cases where sometimes a witness is not credible, but in this case ALL of the witnesses were not credible,” Polasky said.
“Socio-economic status (of a victim) is not one of the criteria for taking a case,” the D.A. noted.
Polasky said, “I was aware it was a hot button issue in the community, but that doesn’t play a role in our decision to prosecute a case.
“In every case I have to present evidence to convince 12 jurors. I don’t look for reasons not to prosecute a case,” Polasky added.
Polasky said he was aware of previous disagreements between D.A. David Brower and Chief Agner on other cases.
He said, “There is no pattern to these cases. I’m turning the page on prior concerns. This is not an issue.”
Polasky was assigned to handle prosecutions in Petersburg about a month ago and said the Petersburg Court meets 10 times a year. “I expect to be there all 10 times,” Polasky said.
Polasky was a prosecutor in Ketchikan for five years and participated in 60 jury trials during that time, as well as presenting evidence to grand juries. “I don’t shy away from trials,” Polasky said.