Duluth ball slasher, family say he's not a danger
A Duluth man with a history of burglary to satisfy a self-professed fetish for slashing large rubber exercise balls said he can't explain his compulsion but that he's not a threat to anyone.
Christopher Neil Bjerkness, 31, was arraigned in St. Louis County District Court on Monday on charges that he broke into the SMDC-Duluth Clinic West building May 30 and slashed exercise balls with a sharp knife.
In a phone interview Monday from the St. Louis County Jail, Bjerkness said he couldn't explain his actions.
"It's just a fetish of mine; that's all I can say," he said.
Bjerkness said he is a victim of fetal alcohol syndrome, bipolar depression and cerebral palsy. That information was later confirmed by his adoptive parents.
Bjerkness turned himself in just before 1 a.m. Saturday after calling police from the Holiday Center. He was taken into custody on an arrest warrant without incident.
Bjerkness said he called police to come and get him after reading an Internet story in which he learned a warrant had been issued for his arrest.
Bjerkness told Duluth police he slashed the rubber balls to satisfy a sexual urge, court documents indicate. Experts in the field said Bjerkness has a fetish or unusual attraction to inflatable exercise devices.
His fetish has led to other brushes with the law. Bjerkness was convicted in 2005 of first-degree criminal damage to property after getting into the Sports and Health Center at the University of Minnesota Duluth on several occasions and damaging inflatable exercise balls.
As part of his earlier probation, Bjerkness was ordered to undergo psychological counseling, but he left his therapy group in April 2008, according to the criminal complaint. A licensed psychologist said Bjerkness was not attempting to get better and "continues to be a risk to society."
Bjerkness said his fetish for exercise balls has nothing to do with the people who work or exercise at gyms.
"It's just a weird thing that I do," Bjerkness said Monday. "They say that I'm a threat to society, but I don't feel so."
Bjerkness has been charged with 15 crimes since 1997. But he said he thinks he can stop his criminal behavior.
"It's been too many years and too much ridiculous stuff," he said. "I shouldn't have even done this, but I did."
Is he remorseful?
"Yes I am," he said. "I'm just very sorry I did what I did."
Robin Bjerkness of Avon, Minn., said that because her son was a victim of fetal alcohol syndrome, he's unable to realize the consequences of his actions.
She said he attended mainstream and special education classes in Cook County and Duluth before graduating from Duluth Central High School.
The couple adopted Bjerkness when he was younger than 3. They had lost another son in a car accident.
The boy couldn't even crawl when they got him from the adoption agency, his father said. Gary Bjerkness said he got down and crawled around on the floor of a Canadian airport with his son that day and the boy was crawling not long after they got him home. "He had just been neglected," the father said.
Robin Bjerkness said she and her husband and their three biological daughters, all older than the defendant, "love him dearly."
"Christopher is far from a danger to society," she said. "He's a gentle, caring person. It's sad that too many people are misinterpreting what is happening to make him a sick, sexual predator. That's far from true."
Christopher Bjerkness said he is unemployed, but he has worked mowing lawns, as a dish washer and as a telemarketer. He travels by bicycle. His mother doesn't think he has a driver's license. "Due to the cerebral palsy, Christopher has some limitations in his physical trunk strength and so forth," she said.
Robin Bjerkness works for the Minnesota Department of Health and Human Services, where she cares for handicapped people.
"I think the public needs to know that Christopher has handicaps," she said. "He has special needs. He definitely needs support in the public system."
Gary Bjerkness said he saw some of his son's fetish at a young age. "We tried to break him of it and apparently we failed; we didn't know what to do," he said.
"The bottom line is that when he hit his 18th birthday, we didn't want to see him leave because he wasn't ready for the world and the world wasn't ready for him."