December 23, 2003
Kenai Police Officer Killed
Officer Down: John Watson - [Kenai, Alaska]
Kenai police officer slain
ARRESTED: A Kenai fishing guide has been charged in the slaying.
By TATABOLINE BRANT
Anchorage Daily News
(Published: December 27, 2003)
A veteran Kenai police officer died Christmas night after his gun was taken away during a struggle and he was shot twice, once between the shoulder blades and then in the back of the head, Alaska State Troopers said.
Kenai fishing guide David Forster, 33, was arrested early Friday morning in the slaying of officer John Watson after an hours-long standoff at Forster's home on Watergate Way. He is charged with first-degree murder and first-degree assault and is being held at Wildwood Pre-Trial Facility.
At his arraignment Friday, Forster grinned, fidgeted with his hands, winked at spectators and stared at the ceiling. When Magistrate David Landry asked him about an attorney, Forster stated: "Instead of an attorney, your honor, I'd like to have my pastor as a witness."
Forster whistled and whispered to another prisoner handcuffed to him, and the man, clearly uneasy, was unshackled and moved. Forster stood up at odd times, and at one point was restrained by bailiffs.
Landry set Forster's bail at $500,000.
A 21-year-old woman who was with Forster on Christmas night told troopers the two had gone to a pastor earlier that day because Forster said he was "feeling Satan," charging documents say.
Watson, 43, is the first Kenai police officer killed in the line of duty, officials said.
He had been with the Kenai Police Department for 18 years and was 19 months away from retirement, officials said. He leaves behind a wife and six children whose ages could not be learned Friday.
"This is a tragic loss for the entire community," Kenai city manager Linda Snow said. "He's very, very well liked. We will miss him greatly."
Gov. Frank Murkowski on Friday ordered Alaska state flags flown at half-staff until Watson's memorial service.
"We are abhorred by the sudden and violent death of officer Watson, even as we hope, as a civilized society, that these kinds of crimes would not happen," Murkowski said in a written statement.
The charges show that a caller told troopers just before 8 p.m. Christmas night that Forster and the 21-year-old woman had just left their home. Forster was reported to have been drinking and the woman was crying. The caller told troopers the couple had left in a newer silver Ford Excursion and gave them the license plate number.
Troopers asked Kenai police to keep an eye out for the vehicle. Watson drove to the Watergate Way home listed on the registration but didn't see the vehicle. But just as he was driving away, an Excursion passed him on the road. He turned around and stopped the vehicle in the driveway.
Watson allowed the woman in the vehicle to take two dogs in the Excursion into the house, troopers said. The woman told investigators that before she entered the house, she noticed that Forster and Watson were having a confrontation.
A few minutes after the initial stop, Watson radioed dispatchers that he needed assistance, troopers said.
The woman was in the house when she heard two shots, charging documents say. She told investigators that Forster came to the door holding a gun and that she took it from him and put it in a bedroom, where it was later recovered, according to troopers.
Troopers said they believe a struggle broke out when Watson tried to arrest Forster and the suspect grabbed Watson's .45-caliber Glock semiautomatic.
Watson was shot first in the back, directly over the spine and between the shoulder blades. An armored vest deflected the bullet, but the impact probably stunned or partially paralyzed him, troopers said, citing autopsy results. The second bullet was to the back of the Watson's head.
Officers found Watson on the ground and thought he was dead, charges say. Forster was hunkered down in the house, but authorities secured the area enough for medics to reach Watson, who was still alive but struggling to breathe, said troopers spokesman Greg Wilkinson.
A lieutenant filling in for the Kenai chief, who was out of town, called Watson's wife, Kathy, on his cell phone as he rushed to the scene. Christmas is also Kathy's birthday, and Watson had left home for work at noon after celebrating with his family, Wilkinson said. The lieutenant told Kathy he'd meet her at the hospital. It wasn't known at that time that Watson wouldn't survive.
Three troopers, nine Kenai police officers and eight members of the troopers' Special Emergency Response Team surrounded Forster's house. Shortly after the standoff began, the 21-year-old woman ran from the home unharmed, troopers said. Forster surrendered about four hours later, around 1 a.m.
The Kenai mayor, city manager and several law enforcement and fire officials met Kathy at the hospital. "She was doing as well as can be expected," said Snow, the city manager. "She was with her family. We've told her that all of the city's resources are at her disposal."
The family could not be reached for this story.
Watson's body was flown Friday to Anchorage and taken to the office of the state medical examiner in Anchorage for an autopsy. Later Friday, it was flown back to Kenai.
Services had not been announced Friday. But news of the shooting spread quickly throughout the Kenai area. Watson was a fixture of the Kenai Police Department, an avid Harley-Davidson rider, and had served in the U.S. Army, officials said.
Monte Roberts, a fishing guide who also used to work as a night watchman at the Kenai Police Department, said Friday the slaying has been devastating and that everyone is thinking of Watson's family. "Officer Watson was a really good guy," he said.
Forster owned River and Sea Outfitters, a guide business that specializes in freshwater and saltwater fishing, according to a database of state records. If convicted of the murder charge, he faces a $500,000 fine and up to 99 years in prison.