Suspect jailed after shooting of Kenai patrolman

Posted: Sunday, December 28, 2003

The peace and quiet of a cold Christmas night in Kenai was shattered at around 8:18 p.m. Friday, when an 18-year veteran of the Kenai Police Department was fatally shot down after a confrontation with a Kenai fishing guide turned deadly.

Patrol officer John Watson, 43, died as the result of gunshot wounds suffered at a residence on Watergate Way in Kenai's VIP subdivision, according to Alaska State Troopers.

Following a lengthy standoff with police, David Forster, 33, of Kenai was taken into custody in connection with the slaying.

Forster, who operates River and Sea Outfitters out of his Watergate Way home, appeared in Kenai District Court Friday afternoon before Judge David Landry on charges of first-degree murder and first-degree assault.

According to police and charging documents in the case, officer Watson was contacted by troopers, who had gotten a call from a concerned citizen who said Forster and his 21-year-old fiancee had just left the citizen's home. According to the caller, Forster appeared intoxicated and agitated, and the woman was crying.

Charging documents say his fiancee sought help for Forster from a local pastor Thursday after the 14-year Kenai resident said he was "feeling Satan."

According to troopers, Watson arrived at Forster's home, which he found unoccupied. He was leaving the area, when at 8:16 p.m., he reported he had just seen a vehicle matching the description of the suspect vehicle driving past him. Watson turned around and followed the vehicle to the suspect's driveway. He allowed the female to enter Forster's home, along with two dogs. At that point, troopers say, Watson called for backup and apparently was in the process of trying to arrest Forster.

According to the charging documents, a struggle ensued, and Forster wrestled away the officer's gun, a .45-caliber GLOCK semiautomatic pistol. He then allegedly shot Watson in the back, hitting him in his protective vest and sending him to the ground. Forster then allegedly shot Watson in the back of the head.

At that point, the woman told investigators, Forster entered the home, where she took the weapon from him and placed it in a bedroom.

Officer Watson's body was flown to Anchorage for an autopsy Friday, then returned to Kenai later that day. The body has been accompanied by a uniformed officer the entire time and will be until it is cremated following a funeral service Wednesday in Kenai.

When the call went out around 8:30 p.m. Thursday that an officer was down, every available police and emergency worker in the area responded.

Forster's house was surrounded, and a lengthy standoff ensued.

Police blocked off neighborhood streets, and informed area residents to shut off all lights in their homes, according to neighborhood residents who were home at the time.

Shortly after the standoff began, the woman ran from the home, and officers then spent approximately four hours negotiating with Forster for his surrender. According to trooper spokesperson Greg Wilkinson, Forster gave himself up at 1:07 a.m. Friday.

"Forster came out of the residence and surrendered without incident," Wilkinson said in a press release issued Friday.

Forster was taken to Wildwood Pretrial Facility, where he was questioned by troopers and held until Friday afternoon, when he was taken to the Kenai Courthouse and arraigned.

As he entered the courtroom, Forster appeared upbeat, grinning at both the large number of spectators in the gallery and Kenai Police Lt. Kim Wannamaker, who sat beside Prosecutor June Stein at the prosecution table. He came in chained to another defendant who was there on an unrelated case.

During his approximate 30-minute arraignment, Forster repeatedly made unusual gestures, often peering at the ceiling through cupped hands. He winked at members of the press several times, alternately grinned and glared at Wannamaker, whistled and whispered to the defendant chained alongside him.

He was restrained by bailiffs at one point, and the other defendant who appeared noticeably uneasy sitting next to Forster was eventually unshackled from Forster and placed in a separate seating area.

Forster spoke several times during the proceedings, mostly to answer Judge Landry's routine yes and no questions, but also to argue with both the judge and prosecutor Stein, who refused to address Forster something which appeared to anger him.

"She won't even look at me," he said.

When asked if he would like to be represented by counsel, he answered, "I want to use my pastor, because he's my witness."

"We're not talking about a witness, we're talking about someone who can represent you in a court of law," Landry answered.

Forster also spoke up when Landry tried to explain the assault charge. When the judge told him he was being charged with assault for using a deadly weapon, Forster blurted out, "That was his deadly weapon," apparently referring to Watson's gun.

At the request of Stein, Landry ordered Forster held on a $500,000 cash-only bond, with the conditions that if he's released he must have a third-party custodian and not have contact with his fiancee. He was remanded to the custody of the state and led out of the courtroom without incident. A grand jury is scheduled to convene Tuesday to consider the case. Landry set Forster's next court appearance for Jan. 5 at 3:15 p.m.

Wannamaker said Friday that a thorough investigation into the incident is ongoing.

"We've turned the entire investigation over to Alaska State Troopers, and they're conducting the investigation," he said.

The loss of its longest-serving officer comes as a big blow to the Kenai Police Department.

"He mentored and trained every officer. ... John was the caretaker of the new officers," said Kenai Police Chief Chuck Kopp, who was vacationing in Pittsburgh when Watson was killed. Kopp was back in Kenai by Friday.

"He had a profound influence on all the officers. He was a pillar and strong encouragement to the troops. ... One of the things that the officers will miss, is that he was very steady," Kopp said. "John cared deeply about everybody. When you lose someone like him, it just leaves a big hole.

Three members of the state's critical incident stress management team met with officers Saturday to help them deal with the loss, Kopp said.

Watson's shooting is the first of its kind on the peninsula. He became the 40th peace officer to die in the line of duty since Alaska became a state.

Kenai Mayor John Williams said the city is doing everything it can to deal with the tragic loss of one of its finest employees.

"It was just a terrible situation to have occur, especially when it did," Williams said.

The city has been working to ensure administrative and legal issues are taken care of, as well as to make sure Watson's family has everything they need to cope with their loss. Watson left a wife, Kathy, as well as a daughter and six stepchildren.

"We just have to cope and try to support the family," Williams said.

The mayor said he'll be attending a memorial service scheduled for 1 p.m. Wednesday at Kenai Central High School. Gov. Frank Murkowski has ordered state flags lowered to half-staff until after the service, and Williams said he's heard from state lawmakers and public safety officials that a number of them, including Lt. Gov. Loren Leman, will be making the trip to Kenai for the service.

"I'm sure there will be quite a contingent," Williams said.

In the meantime, the city, its residents and law enforcement officials will be forced to come to grips with one of the worst tragedies to ever strike the area.

Ken Cissell, a longtime friend of Watson's who attended Friday's arraignment of Forster, summed up the community's feelings about the tragedy during an interview Saturday.

"It just doesn't make any sense," Cissell said. "It probably never will."

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