Sterling man remembered as investigation continues

Family and friends want to honor the Sterling man shot and killed last week during a confrontation with an Alaska State Trooper, while the Department of Public Safety continues its investigation.

Jon Ployhar, 49, was fatally shot after he allegedly fled from Trooper John King during an attempted traffic stop near Mile 82 of the Sterling Highway on Oct. 24, according to an dispatch from the troopers.

According to the dispatch, King tried to pull Ployhar over in the man’s 1983 Lincoln for an equipment violation. King then chased Ployhar up a private driveway where the Sterling man got out and fled on foot, according to the trooper report.

When King caught up to Ployhar, the trooper tried to detain him which led to a fight during which King was struck on his head and face, according to the trooper report.

“Ployhar resisted and a physical confrontation commenced where both men went to the ground,” according to the trooper report.

King allegedly tried to use a Taser to stun Ployhar, but Ployhar got a hold of it; that’s when King pulled out his gun and shot Ployhar once in the chest, killing him, according to the report.

King has been with the department since Feb. 2014, according to the report.

Ployhar’s brother, Kent, is in Alaska making arrangements for two memorial services before he returns to Mexico, where he lives. Members of the Sterling Brotherhood, which Jon Ployhar participated in, are also planning a memorial service.

The Sterling Brotherhood is a group of homesteaders and other Sterling residents who help each other with every day favors and serve as a community watch organization.

The group drew attention in September when some of its members, including Ployhar, chased down and held a man wanted for burglary and other crimes until troopers arrived.

Wayne “Froggy” Debnam, a member of the Brotherhood, said he knew Ployhar for only a matter of months, but that he was impressed with how dedicated the man was to patrolling the streets of Sterling and notifying the troopers of suspected drug activity in the area. Ployhar never got one of the official shirts given out to Sterling Brotherhood members, so Debnam is sending one back with his brother.

“Johnny was a great guy. I can’t go into his background about all that stuff,” Debnam said. “I’ve got the same thing in my background, (and) a lot of others do. That’s way behind us, you know? The Jon that I met, I loved the guy.”

Jon Ployhar had a criminal record and a history with substance abuse, but his brother and Brotherhood members said he had been working to “straighten his life out” for a long time and had given up his bad habits years ago.

“He didn’t even drink, really,” Kent Ployhar said. “I mean once in a while he’d have maybe a glass of wine or something.”

Most of Ployhar’s record consists of minor offenses and driving violations, though he had been charged with possession in the 1980s, resisting arrest in 1991 and assault in the fourth degree in September of this year. Debnam and other Brotherhood members described Jon Ployhar as concerned about his neighbors and passionate about trying to put a stop to crime in Sterling. Debnam said the man was prone to calling troopers often to inform them of things that worried him. His interest in tracking area crimes could sometimes border on over the top, Debnam said.

“He’d become obsessed, I think, with that,” Debnam said. “He wanted that done, he wanted it done and he wasn’t getting anybody to help him get it done.”

Kent Ployhar said his relationship with his brother has grown to be distant over the years, but that he was generally not the type of person to carry weapons.

Debnam said the man was living in his car prior to his death, and was trying to find a new place.

In the wake of the fatal shooting, the Brotherhood members said the Sterling community is shaken. Many now find it difficult to trust the troopers, Debnam said. He and Kent Ployhar said they do not blame King or the Alaska State Troopers for what happened, but are looking for answers as to why deadly force had been used.

“Things were starting to come together a little bit between our community and the troopers,” Debnam said. “When the Brandon Bernier thing came down, it was pulling us closer together, and then when this happened… there’s no trust in our community.”

Brandon Bernier was being sought this summer by the Alaska State Troopers for numerous crimes, including theft and burglary charges from July, reckless driving and assault charges from August and theft and burglary charges from September. Ployhar, Debnam and others helped chase him down in Sterling after allegedly seeing him attempt to steal a vehicle, and held him until troopers arrived.

“It’s pretty frustrating when you have to sleep in your business because you’re afraid somebody’s going to kick your door in,” added Jeffrey Clonts, a Brotherhood member and owner of Magpye’s Pizzeria.

Slow trooper response time to thefts and other crimes in the area upsets residents, especially when they are encouraged to collect information for the troopers or the Peninsula Crime Stoppers, the Brotherhood members said. Debnam’s wife, Debbie, said she believes part of the problem is that, because troopers in the state are stretched so thin, there is not a sense of understanding between them and the communities they work in.

“The only way you can have a buy-in in a community is if you have a presence in that community,” she said. “You’ve got cops strung out and they’re trying to do their job, no buy-in into the community… putting the burden on the civilians for the information. Civilians do not have training.”

Debnam described the Sterling Brotherhood as a group of neighbors helping others out with every day needs, like getting heat turned back on when it goes out in the winter. The group will continue to do those favors and be watchful of the community, he said.

The report of the shooting completed by the Alaska Bureau of Investigations will go to the Department of Law’s Office of Special Prosecutions to determine whether King was legally justified in using deadly force. Alaska State Troopers Public Information Officer Megan Peters said in a previous interview with the Peninsula Clarion that once the case is through the Office of Special Prosecutions, it will come back to the Department of Public Safety, where it will be studied to see if any department policies were violated.

Attempts to reach Peters for comment Sunday were not successful.

Reach Megan Pacer at megan.pacer@peninsulaclarion.com.

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