KODIAK — After 15 years working in the Kodiak Police Department, Lt. DJ Clumpner has retired and is relocating to a small town in Wyoming with his wife, Tina.
A crowd of KPD staffers and Clumpner’s friends and family members, as well as a number of prominent community members, gathered at the Kodiak Police Station on Tuesday to celebrate his career. The department produced a video of messages from Clumpner’s former colleagues, prompting both laughs and tears from those in attendance.
“When I met DJ, that fully solidified for me that I was going to belong here,” said one officer.
Clumpner was also presented with a number of gifts and mementos from his time on the force, including a uniform shirt with his original patrol officer badge.
“I never thought this day would come,” Clumpner said. “It’s not a sad day; it’s time to go. It’s a happy day. And now I get to go find out what’s next.”
Clumpner began his law enforcement career as a reserve officer in Dillingham in 1996, before becoming a full time patrol officer in 1998. He joined KPD in 2004.
“I had come here a couple of years before that to train with the department when they got their patrol rifles,” Clumpner said. “I just liked the dynamics of the department. TC Kamai was the chief at that time and it was a little bit bigger than Dillingham and had more opportunity.”
Clumpner explained that Dillingham had a five or six man department at the time, and it seemed inevitable that he would become the department’s sergeant or perhaps even the chief — eventually. Clumpner, however, was more interested in investigative work, which is what prompted his move to Kodiak. He ended up becoming a detective just three years after joining KPD. The cases he solved in the position, he said, are among the highlights of his career.
“When I was a drug detective, we had a guy that was bringing drugs from Mexico. He was bringing them to people in Kodiak to sell,” Clumpner said. “I was able to track him down through a series of investigative techniques, that I don’t want to give out now because we’re still using them. I was able to have him arrested in California by the feds. He went to prison for quite a long time. He turned out to be a fairly bad guy.”
Clumpner later worked in general investigations. However, he said that due to the size of the department, KPD investigators tend to work together on whatever case was thrown at them.
“We had a homicide (case) on Pillar Mountain, that I was part of, the same here we had a homicide in town –– the Cavaness homicide,” Clumpner said. “I’m pretty proud that we were able to solve them as quickly as we did.”
The two homicides to which Clumpner was referring both occurred in 2008. The first involved 43-year-old Justin McGriff, who worked as a dishwasher at El Chicano Mexican Restaurant and Cantina. McGriff was killed after being hit by a car on Pillar Mountain Road, where he was reportedly living at a campsite. In 2015, a local man was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the crime after pleading guilty ito criminally negligent homicide.
The second involved Darrell Cavaness, who was found unconscious and bleeding at an apartment in Kodiak. He was taken to an Anchorage hospital, where he died one week later. Between 2011-2013, two men were found guilty of inflicting the injuries that led to Cavaness’s death. They were sentenced to 13 and 20 years in prison, respectively.
“Caveness case was particularly tricky, because the scene had been cleaned up before we got there,” Clumpner said. “That took us close to a year, I think, but it was satisfying. The family thanked us, and his widow thanked us for what we had done.”
Clumpner eventually became a sergeant and spent his last few years with the department as a lieutenant. During his final years, he played a key leadership role at KPD. At the retirement ceremony, City Manager Mike Tvenge said that Clumpber would provide him with daily briefings during the months when Putney was training to become chief.
“DJ was my first training officer when I started on patrol in 2006,” Putney said. “I started as a corrections officer and did that for a few years before I got the chance to go on patrol –– but DJ and I started at the department in the same year, so I got to work with him my whole career.”
Putney said that he and Clumpner were at one time partners at KPD and, especially over the past few years, have continued to work closely together.
He noted that Clumpner also became a mentor to many of the younger recruits during his final years. A number of the younger patrol officers spoke during Clumpner’s retirement ceremony, one referring to him as “not only a mentor to me, but … my Alaskan father figure.”
“We have a lot of younger people in the department, and he really takes to that older role model position well,” Putney said.
With regards to filling Clumpner’s position, Putney said it would take a couple of months to figure out.
“We’re talking about waiting a few months, then taking a look at the department and maybe doing some restructuring,” Putney said, adding that he would prefer to keep as many patrol officers on the street as possible.
Clumpner, on the other hand, has no plans for his retirement, but is quite content with that.
“I don’t have a plan at this point. I’m sure something will turn up. I just want to decompress for a while,” he said. “But, it was time to leave.”
The town he’s moving to in Wyoming, he said, is quiet and smaller than Kodiak.
“I like small towns. We found a small town and it looks like a Norman Rockwell painting,” he said. “We went to several different states –– we went to Texas, New Mexico, Arizona –– looking for somewhere to go. We pulled into this town and it was a Sunday afternoon in early summer. There were families playing baseball in the park and kids running around … that’s kind of how I knew it was time to leave. We got there and my wife looked at me and goes: ‘This feels like home.’”
Clumpner said that when they returned to the town during a different time of the year to look at purchasing a home, they didn’t know if they would feel the same way.
“But we did,” he said.