A man with a warrant for his arrest was taken to the ground and forcibly arrested outside of the Hansons grocery store in Nome on Tuesday night. Police say he was resisting, but some eyewitnesses are questioning whether the force was necessary.
Police arrested twenty-year old Javen Slwooko of Gambell in the Hansons grocery store on an active arrest warrant. Slwooko was a resident at the Seaside Center, a re-entry “halfway house” in Nome, and also a Hansons employee, according to court documents. He was mandated to return to the center after completing his shift on Friday, April 23rd but did not — prompting authorities at Seaside to notify the Nome Police for Slwooko’s arrest.
Nome Police Chief Mike Heintzelman and Deputy Chief Bob Pruckner responded to the arrest on Tuesday after they were notified of Slwooko’s presence. The court complaint filed by NPD states that Slwooko initially complied with the arrest and was led outside of the store in handcuffs. Slwooko asked for a cigarette and to have his handcuffs readjusted. His request was reportedly granted and at that time Slwooko allegedly began to resist with one hand cuffed and the other free. In the complaint, Chief Heintzelman alleges that Slwooko grabbed him in the genitals. Officers say they forced Slwooko to the ground where they were able to fully handcuff him. A third officer, Austin Martino, was called to the scene to assist in the arrest. Police say they needed to bring Slwooko to the ground to fully handcuff him. Slwooko was then restrained by a strap-like device called a hobble to keep him from kicking, according to the complaint.
Chief Heintzelman told KNOM by email that no body camera footage exists of the incident. He says that the chief and deputy chief do not wear body cameras because their roles are typically administrative; the third officer was called in from being off-duty and reportedly did not grab his camera from the station.
But online, citizens have taken to social media to question whether the force was truly justified. At least two eyewitnesses, who wished to remain anonymous, said they did not see Slwooko resisting arrest or struggling once he was on the ground. There is no way for the public to know when the police are justified in using force according to their own policies. The Nome Police use of force manual is completely redacted to the public and has not been updated since 2012.
Slwooko’s father, Edwin Campbell, described him as hard-working and extremely helpful — he said his son had never mentioned wanting to escape from Seaside. Javen Slwooko was originally incarcerated for an assault on a family member in Gambell in January of 2020.
He is held at Anvil Mountain Correctional Center without bail on charges of assault in the third-degree and resisting arrest.
Image at top: A Nome Police Department vehicle. Photo: KNOM file, Matthew F. Smith.