Busting drug dealers, sex traffickers and prostitutes is a tough job. Recently retired Sergeant Kathy Lacey did that dangerous work for 20 years as the head of Anchorage Police Department’s undercover vice unit. Lacey says when she first started in law enforcement, prostitution and drug crimes were more visible, out on the street. Now though, she says trafficking is more covert.
TOWNSEND: What attracted you to vice?
LACEY: The way it works is the first thing you do is patrol. On patrol you see everything. Its all thrown at you and after a few years, you find your interest. I was always drawn to the street level crimes, drugs, prostitution. I grew up in Spenard, that was a hot bed of street crimes and I was comfortable working in that area. I took that career path.
TOWNSEND: Had you worked in law enforcement before?
LACEY: History in public safety, my brother was a former fire chief for Anchorage, my sister was a deputy chief. It was my younger brother, Chris said, hey APD is hiring, why don’t you check it out. I got in the academy and liked it. it was challenging and physical and mental ability and I took to it like a duck to water. I have a nephew now on the department. We were always drawn to public safety.
TOWNSEND: Did you initially focus on prostitution or drugs?
LACEY: It was all hand in hand, in the old days, if you wanted to know what was going on on the street, you talked to the women who worked in the sex trade, they were the ones who knew where the crack houses were.
TOWNSEND: How has sex trafficking changed?
LACEY: A lot more sophisticated, more cash, more money, internet has exploded. The old days, visible, women on the street, everybody saw it, we worked those women, now it’s more behind closed doors, the traffickers have more money at stake, it’s more difficult, requires more to figure out who traffickers are.
TOWNSEND: Are there recruiters going to rural Alaska?
LACEY: Yes, we had a case specifically where the trafficker was going to villages to recruit, what level, how many, it’s difficult to say because so much is happening that is hidden, but absolutely he was doing that.
TOWNSEND: What about traffickers from outside the state?
LACEY: Yes, we’ve seen that a lot. We’ve made arrests of women, sometimes with the trafficker, sometimes alone, they put money on a card and he can pull it out in another state.
TOWNSEND: Are any of the victims trafficked in Alaska taken out of state?
LACEY: Not seeing that but in the massage parlor circuit, they move around, I don’t have information that they are being forced, but they’re being coerced.
TOWNSEND: How has the massage parlor aspect changed?
LACEY: It’s easy to make money as a trafficker in the massage parlor business. The only way you know is if someone goes in there and gets sex instead of a massage and there’s layers, someone has the license, someone else running. It’s hard to uncover it all. Its use has exploded.
TOWNSEND: It must have been frustrating, the facade of a legitimate business and online trafficking. How have you dealt with that frustration?
LACEY: It is frustrating and I had a fantastic group of detectives. The type drawn to this, it takes a lot, but when we get someone out of it, especially when it’s the underage kids. Its disturbing. We focus on getting them out and putting the trafficker behind bars.
TOWNSEND: Have the traffickers themselves changed? Is the treatment worse?
LACEY: Each case is individual; I think it stays about the same. People say let’s legalize this, its consenting adults, there’s a segment that says that and then there is what we see which is always a level of control and usually a level of violence between traffickers and the women they traffick. Always going to be coercion and a level of force. To keep them in line, often the trafficker will use force.
TOWNSEND: Are there areas of Alaska that are hot spots?
LACEY: Western Alaska, we’ve had more cases there than anywhere, there’s not one spot. Anchorage, and if we work it hard, they get pushed to Fairbanks, they might then force them somewhere else, they might go to the valley. Anchorage is the hub.
TOWNSEND: In 20 years of law enforcement, would you say the city, is the city becoming a more violent place beyond the demographics, the sexual assault rate is higher here and stays that way. Why do you think that is and looking back where are we now with the amount of violence now?
LACEY: I would say, it has become more violent. I know we’re seeing a real spike in violent crimes. I attribute that to deployment of the department. Drug crimes fuel property crimes. There’s been a shift away from these areas and I think that’s a mistake. You know where the elements are and you have to keep pressure on those factions or they start to escalate and I think we’ve seen that. There has to be a refocus on street crime suppression.
TOWNSEND: New mayor-elect Ethan Berkowitz – what would you want him to focus on immediately?
LACEY: From what I’ve heard of what he’s said, I think he’s very smart and he’s talked about reinstituting the gang unit and those are important steps. You have to have the staffing to make these things happen. Those units are really important to keep the overall crime rate down. He understands that, hiring more is key, and I’d like to see focus on retention of the officers they have. You have a lot of experience walking out the door and all the officers you hire aren’t going to make it through the training, let’s focus on retaining and that’s not happening, people are walking out the door and you’re losing all that experience. They’re missing the bet right there. I’m excited about what Berkowitz is talking about.
TOWNSEND: What advice would you give to parents to keep their kids safe?
LACEY: Be involved, ask questions. I have a daughter that just graduated from high school last week. You need to have discussions with your kids, what’s going on at their school. Ask their opinion, my daughter has good opinions. I see things that I think are inappropriate, she says no. I think it’s interesting to get their perspective. I talk to my kids about everything, they know about prostitution, they know about street level drugs. You have to be their voice of reason, they can get everything online.
TOWNSEND: There’s been a lot of back and forth about ‘Erin’s Law,’ legislation here has changed making it optional. What do you think is appropriate and should be in schools?
LACEY: I think we’re missing the boat by not getting to them sooner. They have the world at their fingertips on their cell phone and we need to talk to them. I worked with the STAR program and was shocked that they’re not in every school. I think it needs to be mandatory when its not there. We’re doing a disservice when we’re not having this discussion, look at our rates, why are we afraid to talk about it.
TOWNSEND: Consulting on “Frozen Ground” and exploring new avenues… tell me more.
LACEY: Approached by producers several years ago. They were interested in my vice work and sex trafficking. They are enamored of Alaska and see it as unique. They liked that it was an undercover unit run by a woman. It’s a way for me to continue my human trafficking work even though I’m no longer in law enforcement. JUST RAISING AWARENESS? Exactly, keep in mind it’s Hollywood…..
Retired APD Sergeant Kathy Lacey is now a consulting producer on a developing television series that will feature vice crime in Anchorage.
The King of Norway visited Anchorage on Wednesday bearing a message of goodwill, and the message that climate change is a priority for all Arctic nations.
After visiting the Anchorage Museum, the Norwegian monarch, King Harald V, spoke at a luncheon hosted by the Alaska World Affairs Council, where he urged the value of science and study in the far north:
“Research and reliable data is essential in our struggle against climate change. The projects at the poles give us valuable knowledge in finding solutions to one of the greatest challenges of our time.”
And to hit that point home, Harald reiterated the words of a famous Norwegian explorer:
“Roald Amundsen once said, I quote, ‘Victory awaits him who has everything in order. Luck, people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time. This is called bad luck.’
“Take Amundsen’s advice seriously. Let no stone be unturned as you seek to increase our understanding about the Arctic. Work hard. Be prepared. And you will have, as Amundsen put it, good luck.”
Harald’s two-day visit to Alaska culminated today in Anchorage.
House Republicans: Take It Or Leave It
Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau
After weeks of an impasse, House Republicans have a new message for Democrats: Take our latest budget package, or we’ll go around you.
Protests Continue Over Education Funding, Medicaid Expansion
Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage
Some Anchorage area residents don’t think the compromise is good enough, especially not for education funding. They don’t like the plan to move around money to avoid a majority vote either. About 50 people and a group of fiddlers gathered outside of the LIO in downtown Anchorage this afternoon.
Heroin Hits Home: City of Bethel Forms Heroin Task Force
Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel
Heroin use in Alaska is on the rise. This is the second in a series of three stories about the impacts of heroin in Bethel and how the community is fighting it. The City of Bethel is organizing a multi-agency heroin task force.
Fairbanks Navigates Pot Legalization
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
The Fairbanks North Star Borough is holding a public meeting Wednesday on proposed rules for marijuana businesses.
Going Undercover With APD Vice’s Kathy Lacey
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
Busting drug dealers, sex traffickers and prostitutes is a tough job. Recently retired Sergeant Kathy Lacey did that dangerous work for 20 years as the head of Anchorage Police Department’s undercover vice unit. Lacey says when she first started in law enforcement, prostitution and drug crimes were more visible, out on the street.
Norwegian Monarch Visits Alaska, Urges Action on Climate Change
Monica Gokey, KSKA – Anchorage
The King of Norway visited Anchorage on Wednesday. He bore a message of goodwill, and the message that climate change is a priority for all Arctic nations.
Yup’ik Singer, Drummer Performs in WDC
Ellie Coggins, KYUK – Bethel
Yup’ik singer and drummer Byron Nicholai performed in Washington, D.C., this past week in front of Secretary of State John Kerry.
Chemical Tags in Ear Bones Reveal Chinooks’ Life Histories
Hannah Colton, KDLG – Dillingham
When a salmon is caught in Bristol Bay, it’s difficult to know where it came from. That’s long been a challenge to fishery managers in Bristol Bay and worldwide. New research on the Nushagak River – one of the largest king salmon runs in the world – uses chemical tags in a fish’s ear bone to tell where it was born and raised.
Federal officials say they intercepted nearly ten times as much heroin coming into Alaska in 2014 than compared to 2013. Once in Alaska the narcotic quickly reaches rural communities, which are now organizing to push back. This is the second in a series of three stories about the impacts of heroin in Bethel and how the community is fighting it. The City of Bethel is organizing a multi-agency heroin task force.
Heroin-related calls are putting a strain on city services and the Bethel Police, according to Chief Andre Achee. He says the department isn’t intercepting much heroin on the streets, but they are responding to an increasing number of thefts.
“What we’re dealing with is the events that are sort of a nexus to heroin: the thefts, the burglaries, the domestic disturbances, stuff being sold through various individuals online, offline, things being stolen even from family members,” said Achee.
He says addicts steal things they can turn over for quick cash.
“Anything from fire arms to vehicles – any type of property that people could sell,” said Achee.
Achee says, sometimes thieves resort to stealing traditional Alaska Native subsistence foods.
“We’ve had thefts of berries: salmonberries, blueberries being sold just for people to get enough money for their dependency,” said Achee.
When the victims are family members, they often don’t want to press charges, says Achee, they just want their items back, which he says perpetuates the cycle and keeps the understaffed police department racing from call-to-call. The fire department’s ambulance crew is also seeing more heroin-related calls, according to city officials. Heroin is also taking a toll on children and families according to Fennisha Gardner, who has worked in and out of the Office of Children’s Services in Bethel since 1999. She says she had never seen the drug come up in their cases until recently.
“I didn’t even see the presence of heroin when I was here the first time or the second time. It has been an explosion of heroin coming into this community and affecting the families,” said Gardner.
The result, Gardner says, is more neglect and other situations that put kids in danger.
“Using substances while having your children in the household, having a criminal element in the household while using with your children there. We also have had children born with heroin in their system,” said Gardner.
The Western office of OCS is handling an increasing number of cases involving babies withdrawing from heroin, Gardner says, and trying to insure they get proper treatment once they’re born.
The City Council has taken notice of the problems and one council member, Byron Maczynski, has been using his position to work on the issue, bringing it up in discussion at city council meetings. That recently resulted in a threat. One morning he found a type-written note in the driver’s seat of his Jeep. It said:
“You’d better back off the heroin issue before you end up killing yourself. If you call the police we will know about it, haha and the next time I see you walking outside your shop, you won’t make it back in,” said Maczynski.
Police are investigating. He says the threat was unnerving, but it just made him want to push harder. At a recent Bethel City Council meeting he did just that.
“Next on the agenda, Action Memorandum 1516, Community Action against heroin and other elicit drugs,” said Bethel Mayor Rick Robb.
Bethel Mayor Rick Robb introduced Maczynski’s Action Memorandum, directing the administration to work with community groups to address the heroin problem. Maczynski read a list of possible things the city could work on:
“Provide anti-drug education in middle school and high schools, disseminate information to community members on how to obtain help, educate community members about what to look for to determine drug use and sales, to include how and where to report,” said Maczynski.
Maczynski called on the city to act.
“Sometimes it’s too late, but it’s not too late for a lot of people out there. And we could really help these people. I hope this community could come together. It’s sad. We need to do something,” said Maczynski.
Council Members discussed the need for a treatment center specifically for heroin addiction in Bethel and agreed the city needs to work with law enforcement to crack down on drug dealers. Since the meeting, Bethel’s City Manager, Ann Capella, says she has been working on putting together a multi-agency community task force to address Bethel’s heroin problems.
After weeks of an impasse, House Republicans have a new message for Democrats: Take our latest budget package, or we’ll go around you.
The proposal Republicans unveiled Wednesday addresses two key sticking points for Democrats. It restores education spending to Gov. Bill Walker’s proposed levels, but keeps a reduction of one-time funding that Democrats had hoped to counteract. Their proposal also maintains the cost-of-living increases guaranteed in state employee union contracts. It balances those add-ins by directing the governor to make a $30 million cut to agency operations.
While explaining the new bill, Republicans on the committee talked a lot about compromise, including Dan Saddler of Eagle River:
“I just want to make the observation that any budget is a compromise and that there are unlimited needs and desires in state government. We are in the unfortunate situation of having less money than we’d like to have and so you can’t have everything be a number one priority, it’s necessary to make compromises, accommodations and allocate.”
But Democrats, like Rep. David Guttenberg of Fairbanks, do not think that ‘compromise’ accurately describes the new bill.
“When we talk about compromise, usually we have two people talking or two parities talking face to face, talking about what the compromise is. I just want to make sure- from my caucus’s perspective that didn’t happen. One side decided what the compromise is and asking or telling the other side here’s what your compromise is.”
If Democrats do not support the legislation, the Republican majority has found a way to circumvent them. While they currently need a three-quarter vote to access the state’s rainy day account, they are able to reduce that threshold by shifting money around in the Permanent Fund so that it can’t be spent.
If the Legislature does not find a way to plug its multi-billion-dollar deficit through its savings, the state government could partially shut down on July 1.
No one was injured and no shots fired during a police standoff of more than three hours outside a Ketchikan home on Memorial Day.
At approximately 6:40 Monday morning, police responded to a report of loud noise coming from a Monroe Street residence. Deputy Police Chief Josh Dossett says when officers arrived they could hear loud music and people inside yelling and arguing. He says officers contacted 63-year old Corrine Graham in front of the residence.
“She was having a verbal argument with her adult son who lived in the residence also. She wanted to have him removed, but since they’re both residents of that house, neither of them could be made to leave under state law.”
Dossett says because no crime had been committed, officers left the scene. He says police were called back at about 8:00 am on a report of an alleged domestic dispute.
“When officers arrived, Ms. Graham barricaded herself in the main bedroom of the residence. Officers learned she had been brandishing a handgun, waving it around in front of her husband and her son. At that point, officers attempted to make contact with her. She wasn’t responding from the bedroom, which was locked. We secured the scene, outside and inside, and began removing residents from the homes directly next to her residence.”
Dossett says three nearby homes were evacuated and a negotiator brought in. He says Graham allegedly would not respond back or acknowledge the officer. Dossett says after about three and a half hours, Graham exited the home.
“Officers initially contacted her. She ran back inside. Within a minute or two she came out the door at which point she was placed on the ground and placed in restraints. She was pretty upset, she was still pretty agitated from the incident earlier that morning. But then she was escorted to a vehicle and transported to the police station for an interview.”
Dossett says a search warrant was issued and a firearm found in the bedroom allegedly believed to be used in the incident. Dossett does not believe drugs or alcohol were involved.
“It just appeared to be a very heated domestic situation which, in our line of work, can be some of the most dangerous because it’s very emotional. It’s very emotionally charged for the people involved.”
Graham was arrested and held, without bail, at the Ketchikan Correctional Center. She is charged with 3rd degree domestic-violence assault.
Five independent candidates are challenging five incumbents for seats on Sealaska’s board of directors. The election is quieter than last year’s, but not without controversy.
Sealaska’s board reorganized after last year’s election under a new president, Juneau’s Joe Nelson. A new CEO, Anthony Mallott, took the helm around the same time, and some other top officials have been replaced.
But there’s still plenty of conflict over the Southeast regional Native corporation’s practices. That includes five straight years of business losses.
The incumbents say the corporation is healthy. And they express confidence shared by Mallott, who says Sealaska is headed in the right direction.
“That’s financial progress. That’s strong operational platforms. That’s comfort that we can create increasing benefit for our shareholders,” he said in a recent interview.
Two incumbent board candidates live in Juneau. Nelson is a University of Alaska Southeast official. Barbara Cadiente-Nelson is a grants administrator and tribal government treasurer.
Former state senator and longtime board chairman Albert Kookesh of Angoon is another incumbent. So are former state representative and fisherman Bill Thomas of Haines and attorney Tate London of Bothell, Washington.
Most of the challengers are critical of the corporation’s programs and business operations.
Two of the five independent candidates are from Juneau. Karen Taug is a controller and former board chairwoman of an urban Native corporation. Brad Fluetsch is an investment adviser and former Alaska Native Brotherhood Grand Camp president.
Ray Austin of Albuquerque, New Mexico, who works in information technology, is also running as an independent candidate. So are social service program manager Catherine Edwards of Woodland Hills, California, and Yakutat Tlingit Tribe office manager Ralph Wolfe, a former Sealaska youth board member.
In addition to the incumbents, several of the challengers have run before.
One not on this year’s ballot is Mick Beasley, the independent with the highest vote count in last year’s election. He says three times is enough.
“You don’t want to get toxic. You want people to believe what they say. So to go and ask people repeatedly and repeatedly, I just don’t think that’s proper,” he said.
Also missing this year is an opposition slate.
Carton Smith, a Juneau real estate company owner, was one of the four. He may run again in the future, but not this year.
“My concern last year was that the corporation was reeling for the losses posted in the 2013 financials. And now there’s new management, so let’s see what they can do,” he said.
Taug is the only member of that group running this year.
Many of Sealaska’s approximately 22,000 shareholders have already cast their proxy ballots. Results will be announced at Sealaska’s annual meeting, June 27 in Juneau.
Alaska’s Orthodox Bishop, David Mahaffey was in Unalaska last week. He has held his post in Alaska for just over a year. He said in that time, he’s placed more focus on work with the Regional Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor Training Program, or RADACT, to address issues of substance and alcohol abuse and domestic violence.
“They’re doing more with our seminarians so that when they graduate,” he said. “When they go back to villages, they are better equipped to deal with people with these issues. I have petitioned the governor to have more VPSO’s in the villages.”
But Bishop David said it’s unclear how successful that petition may be in light of cuts to the state’s budget.
Bishop David said there was something particularly special about his visit to the cathedral in Unalaska, one of the oldest in the country. A chapel in the church is dedicated to St. Innocent, who served as the first Orthodox bishops in the state beginning in 1840.
“When I came here and walked in the doors of this cathedral, the feeling that I had of just the overwhelming presence of St. Innocent and that was to me so spiritually uplifting,” he said. “I would have been happy to not do anything else, but stand in the church all day. This cathedral has that effect on me.”
Bishop David came to Alaska from Pennsylvania first in 2012. He still grapples with the distance.
“I heard something the other day… a man was telling a story about a man who wanted to be a missionary but his wife didn’t want to go where he wanted to go and he kept saying ‘well, I either pick her for a wife or I go to this country to be a missionary,’” explained the Bishop. “He said it wasn’t until her realized he wasn’t picking between the woman and the country, he was picking between the woman and God and I kind of thought ‘yes, that’s what I was doing. I was saying Pennsylvania or Alaska when I should have been saying ‘Pennsylvania or God?’” he said.
Bishop David said he doesn’t regret his decision. He was in Unalaska to mark the Feast of the Ascension. In Russian Orthodox tradition, the celebration takes place 40 days after Easter.
Bishop David also made visits to other Aleutian chain communities including Adak and Nikolski.
Lisa Unin, a resident of Chevak, has received an award from the Rasmuson Foundation for her traditional Cup’ik parkas.
Using this money, Unin will make two full-sized parkas.
When she found out she’d received the award, Lisa Unin felt shocked.
“At first I couldn’t swallow it because I didn’t expect to get an award. Later on I was getting excited and more excited,” said Unin.
Unin, a resident of Chevak, received a Rasmuson Project Award of $7,500. Using this money Unin will make two full-sized parkas. She will speak with elders on how they make the traditional Alaska Native jackets. Once her parkas are completed, Unin will donate them to Alaska museums.
The sealskin and seal gut parkas will be the first Unin will make large enough for a person. Unin typically makes miniature clothes for the dolls her husband makes. She started making these around the age of thirty.
Jayson Smart, with the Rasmuson Foundation, says they choose to give Unin a Project Award because of her commitment to preserving Native culture.
“Overall I think that the panel who reviewed her application was really struck by her commitment to looking at this specific art form and evaluating the importance of trying to keep it alive and supporting somebody like Lisa who’s incredibly skilled at what she does as a skin sewer and in this traditional art form,” said Smart.
The Rasmuson Foundation works to improve the quality of life in Alaska through art. Each year Rasmuson names twenty-five Project Awards, ten Fellows, and one Distinguished Artist. Unin shared the Project Awards with a variety of different types of artists, from traditional Native craftspeople to classical musicians to contemporary sculptors.
The Marine Stewardship Council will facilitate mediation for the salmon processors who disagree about who can participate in the client group that has the council’s sustainability certification. Back in April, ten of Alaska’s major salmon buyers asked to rejoin the label they dropped in 2012, saying it will help them tap back into picky European markets.
Chris Hladick, the state’s new commissioner of commerce, community and economic development, said the department is keeping an eye on the process.
“They will provide a mediator in Seattle between the groups,” Hladick said. “APSA is the group that has the MSC certification, and then there’s a host of other processors that want to join in to the MSC certificate so they can sell their fish in Europe this summer.”
Alaska Governor Bill Walker sent a letter to the MSC on May 18 about the issue. Hladick said the state doesn’t have a role in the mediation process, and doesn’t plan to apply for certification right now.
“The letter was sent strictly to try to get some movement on the issue,” Hladick said. “Of course the issue is, for the state of Alaska, we want to sell salmon.”
Hladick says the European markets are important for selling Alaskan fish, particularly given the strong runs forecast this summer.
A 52-year-old Fairbanks man has been taken into custody on suspicion of attempted arson and domestic assault.
Alaska State Troopers say the man, who has not been formally charged, was taken into custody Monday.
Police just after 4 a.m. took a 911 call reporting someone pouring gasoline around a structure that was occupied.
Troopers arrested the man and he’s being held without bail at Fairbanks Correctional Center.
Online court documents Tuesday say charging documents are pending.
According to reports from the Alaska Department of Labor and the U.S. Census Bureau, the population of the City and Borough of Juneau is declining.
The Juneau Empire reports that The Alaska Department of Labor report states that the population declined by four people from 2013-2014. The federal figures released last week showed a decline of 220 people.
Also during that time, Alaska posted its first population decline since the oil bust of the mid-1980s. The state report shows the state lost 61 people, largely due to deaths outpacing births. The federal report showed the state losing 527 residents.
The difference between estimates is due to variations in the way the figures are calculated.
According to state estimates, only the Anchorage/Mat-Su and Gulf Coast regions of the state posted population gains.
Nome Superior Court Judge Timothy Dooley has been accused of violating the Alaska Code of Judicial Conduct.
The Alaska Dispatch News reports a complaint filed with the Commission on Judicial Conduct Tuesday states that Dooley made statements that were insensitive to victims, witnesses and other parties during court proceedings.
Executive director of the commission, Marla Greenstein, says the agency began investigating Dooley after receiving a few anonymous complaints.
According to the accusations, Dooley’s statements violate the Alaska Code on Judicial Conduct and state statutes including being patient and dignified, maintaining professional competence, and acting without bias or prejudice, among other aspects.
Dooley was appointed to his position by former Gov. Sean Parnell in March 2013.
Dooley’s attorney, William Satterberg, did not immediately return a request for comment.
Sen. John McCain is leading a U.S. Senate delegation that will visit Vietnam and Singapore this week.
The Arizona Republican is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and his office says the trip is being made at a critical time for U.S. interests in the Asia-Pacific region.
McCain’s office says Sens. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, Joni Ernst of Iowa and Dan Sullivan of Alaska also are making the trip, while Sens. Cory Gardner of Colorado and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii will join the delegation in Singapore.
According to McCain’s office, the delegation plans to meet with government officials and others in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City while in Vietnam.
The senators will participate in a meeting of defense ministers and other policy makers while in Singapore.
A man accused of killing his girlfriend in Bethel over the weekend was arraigned today.
24-year-old Justine Paul appeared by video from the Yukon Kuskokwim Correctional Center.
Judge Bruce Ward asked him if he understood the charges:
“Do you understand what the charges are against you Mr. Paul?” said Ward.
“Yes,” said Paul
“Murder in the First Degree – possible penalty range up to 99 years in jail and up to a $500-thousand dollar fine, do you understand?” said Ward.
“Yes,” said Paul.
“There’s a minimum of 20 years, do you understand that?” said Ward.
” … What?” said Paul.
“A minimum of 20 years if you are convicted, do you understand?” said Ward.
“Alright,” said Paul.
Court documents filed by the Bethel Police Department, describe a gory scene along a boardwalk at a community park where his girlfriend, 23-year-old Eunice Whitman, was found stabbed to death early Sunday morning. Investigators say a witness saw Paul with blood on his clothing.
During his arraignment, Paul said he was released from jail in January. An attorney with the state noted that Paul was convicted in 2010 of attempted sexual assault in the second degree and that he had three probation violations since then. He asked for bail to be set at $500-thousand dollars. Judge Ward agreed and set a preliminary hearing date for Paul on June 5th in Bethel.
Family members of Whitman appeared in court to witness the arraignment, but a spokesperson for the family said they did not want to make a statement to the media at this time.
The House’s Republican Majority is moving forward with a contingency plan to tap the rainy day account without Democratic support. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.
The bill offered Tuesday executes an accounting trick that makes it easier to access the state’s $10 billion constitutional budget reserve. That reserve is governed by byzantine rules that require a three-quarter vote when the state has money available to it in other funds, but require only a majority vote when the reserve is the largest source of spendable dollars available to the Legislature.
This is where the Permanent Fund comes in. Because the Fund’s investment earnings are in an account separate from the Fund’s corpus and are legally available for the Legislature to spend, that money triggers a three-quarter vote on the budget reserve. But if you move that money to the corpus of the Permanent Fund, it basically gets locked up and can only be spent through a vote of the people. With that money no longer spendable, the Legislature only needs a majority vote to access the rainy day fund.
Speaking on APRN’s Talk of Alaska, House Speaker Mike Chenault stressed that this plan would not draw money from the Permanent Fund to plug the state’s multi-billion-dollar deficit.
“There’s no money out of the earnings reserve going to pay for government,” said Chenault.
The bill before the House works as a failsafe against government shutdown. It would only move the earnings reserve money if the Legislature fails get a three-quarter vote by June 30 — the Legislature’s last day to reach a budget compromise before the state government partially shuts down. On top of shifting $5 billion from the earnings reserve to inflation-proof the corpus, the bill would also move money from the higher education investment fund into another account on the shutdown deadline.
Democrats oppose the move, describing it as a sleight of hand.
“It is an accounting gimmick to try to get around working with us in a bipartisan manner that reflects the spectrum of Alaskans,” said House Minority Leader Chris Tuck.
For weeks, the Legislature has been at an impasse, with Democrats seeking increased education funding, Medicaid expansion, and cost-of-living increases for public employees as part of a budget deal.
Tuck also expressed concern that shifting the funds could affect dividends in bad years for the national economy. In a letter circulated by the House Majority, the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation’s chief financial officer wrote that the transfer should not have an impact on dividend payouts in typical or even weak years, but also made the caveat that projections do not always match the market performance.
Concern over the dividend has also caused some skittishness within the Republican House Majority. Last week, six members of that caucus signed a letter stating their opposition to the idea.
Lawmakers have until June 1 to find a way to fully fund their budget before pink slips are sent to thousands of state employees.
Federal officials say in 2014 they intercepted nearly ten times as much heroin coming into Alaska than in 2013. The growing use of the drug is impacting urban and rural areas. This is the first in a series of three stories about the impacts of heroin in Bethel and how the community is fighting it. It begins with one woman’s struggle to get clean in Bethel.
Don’t be fooled by Tracy Faulkner’s 5’4” frame. The small brunette with thick hair and the nickname malaggai, which means “fur hat” in Yup’ik, is a former wrestling champion.
She competed against boys in high school, going all the way to state and national competition. But in her off time she hid a dark secret.
“When I wasn’t training I would go and use — steal my parents’ booze, you know, find weed. It eventually progressed to taking pills,” said Faulkner.
That started when she was 12. One semester into college drugs started taking a priority over schoolwork. She dropped out and returned to Bethel where she tried school again, but her drug use intervened. She started a food truck business, but couldn’t maintain that either. That’s when Faulkner’s need for escape escalated.
“I got addicted to Tramadol – started taking that, eventually it wasn’t doing the trick for me anymore – I wanted that same high which I first got in the beginning. Then went to Oxycontin, and then went to using heroin,” said Faulkner.
Faulkner smoked it. Others inject. She couldn’t hold a job and was stealing to support her habit. Each high, or ‘nifty’ as they’re called, cost $100 here.
There are no treatment programs specifically for heroin addiction in Bethel. Treatment centers in Anchorage have waiting lists. Rick Robb is Bethel’s Mayor and also runs residential facilities for the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation. “It seems like a few years ago it would be non-existent to rare, but now we’re seeing full-blown heroin and we’re seeing it more and more. So the numbers are definitely increasing,” said Robb.
YKHC’s behavioral health division offers outpatient and inpatient treatment for those struggling to get off drugs and alcohol. But there are only 16 beds at the local center and they’re not equipped to handle heroin withdrawal. Sometimes, Robb says, people endure the painful process in the hospital emergency room or at home.
“People can come in if they have a problem, and we’re gonna do the best we can with the resources we have to get people the help they need. I think we have to. There’s some emphasis on us. We have to improve our programing specifically for heroin and we have to learn more about it,” said Robb.
Faulkner says she distinctly remembers the day this winter when she gazed out the window at a friend’s house and realized she wanted to make a change.
“I remember looking out on the river and just seeing everybody living life and I was stuck in this dark place,” said Faulkner.
But with no detox facility in Bethel, Faulkner realized it would have to be cold turkey. She reached out to an uncle for help. He cared for her as she went through withdrawal.
“You get sick to your bones, I mean you want to crawl out of your skin. You lay in bed all day. You have the shakes, the sweats, you know. You’re puking, out the other end, you know it’s bad to where I couldn’t get out of bed,” said Faulkner.
After detox at home, she was ready to check herself into the local treatment program run by YKHC. But it wasn’t an easy process. YKHC told her it could take weeks to get an assessment necessary to access treatment. Instead of waiting she got the assessment at a local primary care clinic and was able to check in to in-patient treatment through YKHC within a few days. Robb, with YKHC, says he knows they need to do a better job of getting patients quickly into treatment. Now Faulkner is done with her treatment program. She says she gains strength from her ancestors and from her young son, who she says deserves to grow up in a healthy environment.
“It’s our younger generation that’s going to be most affected by this. I mean, our heritage, our culture is gonna be lost. For me, looking at my own child, I don’t want him to grow up in this kind of community. I want him to grow up in the community that I was raised in. Where we showed love for each other, where we cared for each other, where we stood as one,” said Faulkner.
Faulkner says she knows she’s in a unique position to help unite people in the region around the issue, and now that she’s clean that will be her focus.
For weeks, the Alaska Legislature has been wrestling with how to cover its multi-billion-dollar budget deficit. Now one Juneau man has a modest proposal for them: Try crowdfunding? APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez has this story.
For Geoff Kirsch, following the Alaska State Legislature has been like watching the last seasons of Lost. It’s confusing, and frustrating, but you just want to stick it out for the end — which, in this case, is the passage of the budget.
“That’s like their one job, and they haven’t done that,” says Kirsch.
Since the Legislature ended their regular session, they’ve been stuck on their spending bill. They’ve been at an impasse over tapping the state’s rainy day account, which requires a three-quarter vote, and lawmakers have been retreading the same ground in their public meetings, in their talking points, and — by most accounts — their negotiations with each other.
So, Kirsch wondered if Alaskans could take action into their own hands. A few days ago, he launched a campaign to cover the deficit through the website GoFundMe, where people can contribute to causes they like.
“If it works for Veronica Mars and Reading Rainbow, then it certainly might work for Alaska,” says Kirsch.
At $3 billion, the goal is a little higher than most campaigns.
“It comes out to like, $4,000 per person that they would would have to contribute in order for the campaign to work,” says Kirsch.
It’s kind of like voluntary taxation. And given how popular the idea of taxation is in Alaska, it shouldn’t be too shocking that the campaign isn’t raking in cash. But it’s gone better than Kirsch has expected.
“So far, someone has contributed $50, and that wasn’t even me!”
Of course, the point is more to raise awareness of the political situation than to raise money.
Kirsch used to do work for Comedy Central, and still writes political satire. The description says the Legislature’s message to Alaskans has been “to go fund themselves,” and Kirsch encourages Alaskans to turn the budgetary shortfall into budgetary “shortfall-ade.” It’s obvious he had fun with the idea.
But as the husband to a state employee — whom, full disclosure, this reporter knows socially — Kirsch says the budget stalemate is serious. If an agreement is not reached by July 1, up to 15,000 state workers will be laid off.
“People are going to lose money, and people are going to lose health insurance,” says Kirsch. “There’s nothing funny about that.”
But then again, a lot of humor is rooted in tragedy anyway. So, Kirsch is going to take this fundraiser to its logical extreme.
“I really do think I am going to present a big, oversize novelty check to Gov. Walker, if he lets me do that,” says Kirsch. “I don’t know if I need to make an appointment, or if I can just show up with it.”
A spokesperson for the governor said he is “open to discussions on all forms of revenue,” but that they “need to check with their ethics attorneys about whether [they] could take the money.”
A lawsuit between Nome neighbors that centered on noise and odor from one household’s dog lot has been dismissed—and is no longer set to go before a jury this summer.
Since 2012 neighbors Kevin Bopp and wife Lynn DeFilippo have been in a legal tussle with mushers Nils Hahn and wife and mushing partner Diana Haecker.
The neighbors claim the sound and odor of the mushers’ dog lot is a nuisance that makes living next door unbearable; the mushers counter that they’re simply running a dog kennel in rural Alaska. It’s all complicated by the fact that the homes in question are in an unincorporated subdivision six miles outside of town where the City of Nome’s rules don’t apply.
Escalating tensions led Hahn and Haecker to lead the charge on declaring Alaska a “Right to Mush” state last year. It’s all complicated by the fact that the homes in question are in an unincorporated subdivision six miles outside of town where the City of Nome’s rules don’t apply.
The conflict came to a head last month when Kotzebue Judge Paul Roteman ruled the mushers’ dog lot—both in terms of sound and odor—would be acceptable to a “reasonable person.” The case was then set to go before a jury in June—until all four parties agreed to dismiss the case, with prejudice, earlier this month.
“And the with prejudice means that no lawsuit regarding dog noise, or dog odors, or any of the other related complaints touched on in this lawsuit can be brought again in the future.”
That’s Bethel attorney Myron Angstman, who represented mushers Hahn and Haecker in the case. (The attorney for Bopp and Deflippo did not return messages asking for comment.) Angstman says another important part of the settlement is an option for mushers Hahn and Haecker to buy Bopp’s property at what he calls a “fair market” price.
Hahn says—after the judge ruled his dogs could stay put unless a jury decides otherwise—purchasing the land is a clear way forward.
“I think it’s the best option for both parties. You know, I can speak for myself, it’s certainly the best option for us, to buy the land and we offer Mr. Bopp above market value, so, I think that’s the way to go.”
For Bopp, settling simply came down to rising legal fees—fees he says would have ballooned through weeks of trial. Now he’s dropping the case without any changes to a situation he says made life “unbearable” at home.
“I made a decision because of the money, mainly. I don’t want to spend any more. And its really tiring going to court. Haha. Now this suit has beat me with money, so, I really can’t say much as come out in my favor.”
The “pending contract” for mushers Hahn and Haecker to buy Bopp’s property hinges on him relocating his house elsewhere. Bopp says that’s easier said than done in Nome’s tight housing market—but the settlement gives him a one-year window to complete the move.
Also part of the settlement: both parties agree to pay their own attorney fees—fees now running to thousands of dollars after years of court filings and legal maneuvering. Attorney Angstman says that’s no small concession—given that the losing side of a lawsuit can be ordered by the court to pay some or all of the other party’s attorney fees.
Warm, mostly dry weather continues across much of the eastern interior, and that has fire managers concerned about future growth of the Seventy Mile fire in the eastern interior. It’s so far burning in remote country, north of the Seventy Mile River and away from the community of Eagle. Alaska Fire Service spokesman Sam Harrel says a planned burn out operation would blacken an area of heavy timber along the river to protect values on the other side.
“There are a couple of allotments and cabins in the area, but they are on the opposite side of the Seventy Mile Rivers from the fire.”
Harrel says smokejumpers on scene will take advantage of favorable conditions to burn out the area in case a future wind shift pushes the fire back toward the river and the Eagle area. He says another group of smokejumpers are protecting a homestead along the Yukon River at Trout Creek, near where another wildfire is burning.
“A lot of people will know this area along Trout Creek as the Sager Homestead. It’s a hospitality stop along the Yukon Quest Trail, and we have a group of smokejumpers in there with cabin protection on that but, that fire is still a good bit away from the cabin.”
The Trout and Seventy Mile fires are among four started by lightning in the Eagle area Sunday. Harrel says additional dry thunder storms in the region Monday are expected to yield more fires.
“There were over 500 lightning strikes around the state, a lot of them in that area, and the eastern Brooks Range, and so we’ll be patrolling to see if we can see any fires.”
The Alaska Interagency Coordination Center reported Tuesday, that 167 wildfires in Alaska so far this year, had burned about 6,500 acres.