Michael Johnson was walking along a footpath in the Mendenhall Valley last week when, he says he witnessed a drug transaction involving a friend. It purports to show a female drug dealer and Johnson’s friend, immediately after an alleged drug deal.
Johnson, who doesn’t have a cellphone, used his camera to record the subsequent interaction. Johnson said he did not videotape the actual drug transaction, and no drugs are seen being exchanged in the 46-second clip, which he titled “Confronting a Meth Dealer in Alaska.”
“Stay out of it,” the obviously angry woman can be heard saying. “That’s all I’m saying, bro.”
Johnson tried to call the police from a nearby grocery store to report what appeared to be a crime, but said he was rebuffed by the store’s clerk, who would not allow him to use the store’s phone.
Frustrated, he turned to social media, posting the video on the Crime in Juneau Facebook page on June 21 and then on YouTube. Within two days, his Facebook post had 135 likes, 73 comments and 17 shares on just one of the sites. After Johnson reposted the video on YouTube, it garnered nearly 1,500 views in a day, and more than 3,000 as of Tuesday afternoon.
In a phone interview with the Empire Tuesday, Johnson said he witnessed his friend hand a woman a $20 bill, and that the woman handed his friend a bag containing a small white crystal substance. He described his friend as someone who has been there for him in the past and who has helped him get back on his feet.
“I didn’t want to give up on him,” Johnson said, adding that witnessing the alleged drug transaction made him furious.
“I wanted to explode with anger,” he said, adding that he began giving his friend “a hard time” about it; part of that can be heard on the video, with Johnson saying, “I really hate to see you like this.”
When Johnson tried to walk away, he said, the woman started insulting him.
“That’s when I started recording,” he said. “I did tell her, the last thing I said as I was walking away, was that I was putting it online, to expose how she is poisoning the community.”
Johnson said he has tried to make contact with the Juneau Police Department, but has not gotten a response as of yet.
Given the fact that the video is from last week and no actual transaction was recorded, JPD Lt. David Campbell said the video clip “would probably fall under the category of not being able to prove drug sales beyond a reasonable doubt. … We would need the actual substance to seize and test.”
But, said Campbell, the video would still provide good information for future reference.
According to Johnson, he has seen his friend several times since then, and the friend has asked him to take the video down.
He has considered it, he said, but feels that leaving the video up online is serving a purpose.
“Looking away is the problem,” he said. “I hate this feeling of helplessness, watching friends and family succumb to drug addiction. It’s really heartbreaking.”
Johnson said he lives near drug spots and tries to stay aware of the people he calls “the regulars.”
“I just got fed up,” he said, adding that he has gone so far as to stake out street corners. “I had had enough. I am just fed up with how Juneau is spiraling downward.”
Last year, Juneau saw a 28 percent jump in property crime, with a steep rate of increase for burglary. Police have attributed the jump in thefts in part to Juneau’s drug problems —the capital city has been battling an opioid epidemic, which resulted in multiple deaths in 2015.
Johnson said he has been a member of the Crime in Juneau Facebook group for a long time, and has always wanted to spread awareness of crime.
In general, he said, the feedback he has gotten from posting the video has been positive.
“I didn’t think I’d get this kind of response, honestly,” Johnson said. “I thought people would call me a snitch.”
Some have accused him of seeking publicity or page views, a charge he denies.
“I wanted to bring awareness to what drugs have done to a community and a country that I love,” he said. “I want to make a positive difference in my community. My influences are Brienne of Tarth, because she’s noble and does what’s right; and Batman, because he looks out for the city.”
• Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 523-2246 or firstname.lastname@example.org.