DA presses no charges against woman arrested for yelling at governor
The state’s District Attorney John Earthman did not go forward pressing charges against Brenda Evak who was arrested on Wednesday in Nome for disorderly conduct at the Nome airport as Governor Mike Dunleavy, state officials and representatives from the group Americans for Prosperity arrived. They came to Nome as part of a statewide “roadshow” that was sponsored and paid for by Americans for Prosperity and was billed as a policy forum on how to curb government spending.
Although the charges forwarded by the Nome Police Department to the DA were dismissed, Brenda Evak had to appear in the Nome Court at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 28. Judge Romano DiBenedetto confirmed with the DA that he didn’t not want to pursue the case and then told Evak, “You are discharged and free to go, have a good day.”
Prior to the court appearance, Evak gave a statement in front of the Nome Courthouse. Surrounded by a group of supporters she introduced herself as an Inupiaq Alaska Native woman from Kotzebue, having lived in Nome for 14 years, since she was 13-years-old. She said she cares for her community and the land and the future of the indigenous and non-indigenous people. She talked about the trauma of colonization and forced assimilation of indigenous people. “It’s trauma that I’m still healing from today,” she said. On Wednesday she was flying back to Nome, apparently not aware that the governor was on the same plane. In an emotional statement, interrupted a few times by tears, she recounted how she was recently struggling with who she is as a Native woman, about land and environmental issues and what she could do to improve lives for her people and the land.
“What can I do and who’s gonna hear me?” she asked herself.
The energy had been building for a while and boiled over when she saw Dunleavy at the airport, Evak said. “I saw Goliath – Dunleavy, by no means, he is not Goliath, but the people who sponsor him are,” she said through tears. “They’re the people against us and our land. In that moment, I decided to let that energy go and I said what was in my heart and I began chanting ‘When our land is under attack —what do we do? We stand up and fight back.’ We fight for our people, our healing, for our land.” Evak said Dunleavy came up to her, smirked at her. Then she was then taken out of the building by police officers. She remembered being compliant but continued to chant. She was handcuffed outside and the police took her to Anvil Mountain Correctional Center, from where she was released immediately. Later that day, she was attending the governor’s roadshow at Old St. Joe’s.
According to a Nome Police Department press release, sent to KNOM, the Nugget, KTVA and KTUU, Chief of Police Bob Estes wrote that Nome police officers and state troopers were conducting security checks at the airport. When the governor arrived, he began shaking hands, the press release says. “Evak started yelling statements at the Governor and stomping her feet,” the release said. It also said that her actions “gained everyone’s attention.” Police said they asked her to lower her voice and that she was asked to leave. When she didn’t, the press release said, AST and NPD escorted her out of the terminal “during which she was exhibiting physical resistance and endangering public safety.” That was not Sue Steinacher’s observation, who stood right next to Evak as she was handcuffed. “I didn’t see physical resistance, she just stood there when they handcuffed her. I didn’t see any threat to public safety,” Steinacher said. Steinacher described that inside the terminal, people were even applauding Evak for speaking her mind. “I doubt people would’ve applauded if she had been kicking and flailing or showing physical resistance, but for speaking up, there were people clapping their hands,” Steinacher remembered. When Steinacher inquired why Evak was arrested, the police officer’s response was that Evak had been too loud.
One charge of disorderly conduct was sent to the DA.
District Attorney John Earthman explained that disorderly conduct is the least serious criminal charge and carries a maximum penalty of one day in jail. He said he routinely dismisses charges of disorderly conduct. This case, however, was unlike the majority of disorderly conduct charges he sees, as it was not connected to the consumption of alcohol. “I decided the case does not warrant criminal prosecution because the issue was resolved,” he said. Asked if the content of the speech was taken into account, Earthman explained: “This is not about content. It’s about the type of confrontation she chose to exhibit at the airport.” Earthman said that the state does not need to spend time on this case and dismissed the charge.