Parnell administration under fire for allegations of sexual abuse cover-up

Generally speaking, Gov. Sean Parnell’s loyalty is admirable. So is his unwillingness to act impulsively and be deliberative in trying to gather the facts before he makes a decision. But like all qualities, those can go horribly awry, which appears to be the case in his failure for four years to address a culture of sexual abuse that’s permeated Alaska’s National Guard.

On Sunday, Shannyn Moore added on to a story first reported by McClatchy’s Sean Cockerham about the abuses. At last count according to Cockerham’s October article, 29 cases of alleged sexual assault have been reported to local law enforcement. So far, no one has been charged or prosecuted.

As these things go, the details and timeline can get confusing, but what is clear is that Parnell himself was told by Guard chaplains and at least one other member of the Guard about the abuses in 2010. Parnell appeared to have taken no meaningful action. He passed the issue onto his chief of staff Mike Nizich. He also subsequently promoted Thomas Katkus, who was implicated in the complaints, to adjutant general of the Guard.

According to Moore, the chaplains were directed to communicate with Nizich on his personal email, which members of the administration are known to use when they don’t want their communications subject to public information requests. That was in 2011.

Only when Republican Sen Fred Dyson got involved did Parnell take action. Still it took months and it took three visits from Dyson. According to Moore, Dyson first approached Parnell about the issue in early fall of 2013. It wasn’t until March, 2014 that Parnell took the unusual, and possibly telling, step of calling on the feds for help.

It gets worse: Parnell’s deputy commissioner of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, McHugh Pierre, appears to have threatened, or attempted to intimidate, a sexual assault investigator into staying quiet and not talk to legislators about the issues. He then tried the same thing on the chaplains. Enter their outspoken Republican lawyer Wayne Anthony Ross. Enter a big mess.

That was nearly five months ago. Pierre still has a job.

This is clearly the biggest potential scandal that Parnell has yet encountered and could be devastating politically, as it should be, if the facts bear out what’s so far been reported.

Contact Amanda Coyne at


6 thoughts on “Parnell administration under fire for allegations of sexual abuse cover-up

  1. Milton Friedman

    In late 2013 I attended a Veterans town hall meeting hosted by Senator Wielechowski, Representative Saddler and Representative LeDoux and attended by a few other state representatives as well. In the course of the Q&A an elderly woman in the front row raised her hand to ask a question. She voiced her concern about the recent allegations concerning sexual harassment and assault in the Alaska a Guard and said she wanted to know why the Governor is doing nothing about it. Mr. McHugh Pierre immediately asked to be heard, stood up, pointed his finger right at the elderly woman and proceeded to berate her in front of the audience. He exclaimed, in a forceful and disrespectful tine, that the state takes every incident of sexual misconduct seriously and that he was sick and tired of people speaking so flippantly about things of which they know nothing and he would not let that type of talk take place if he were around. The elderly woman, obviously shaken, quieted down and her friend expressed that he was being a little harsh. To this Mr. Pierre expressed that he didn’t mean to come across so strong, but that the subject matter was one that he takes very seriously.

    The guy is not fit for an office in which he will have to deal with challenging opposing points of view. I was not impressed in a positive way beyond wondering who his personal stylist may be. Other than that…meh.

  2. AlaskaCodPiece

    Oh, the hypocrisy as Parnell again runs, hands out, to the hated, over reaching feds for help! Just as with fisheries disaster money … or the Knik Arm Bridge (But not for Medicaid!) ….

    And Parnell is the only governor to return a state’s coastal authority to federal control.

    Read about another Parnell/Dan Sullivan plan that is cloaked in secrecy in Alaska Dispatch: ADF&G is rewriting and repealing every management plan that regulates development in all state wildlife refuges, sanctuaries, and critical habitat areas. Because revoking those regulations does not require legislative approval, it is cleverly designed to be an end run around HB 77.

    Speaking of legislative approval: This is a governor who, joined by his former DNR Commissioner Dan Sullivan in the quest for development at all costs , deemed the DNR mission statement “to develop, conserve and enhance natural resources” unconstitutional, and changed it by deleting the words “conserve” and “enhance” — without bothering to get legislative approval as required by state statute.

  3. John Smith

    I want to believe that the administration is taking allegations of sexual misconduct seriously and investigating thoroughly. Then again, why is there no response from the Guard or the administration and why have the investigations (assuming all 30+ instances are being investigated) not yielded any indictment or prosecutions. The victim has rights, but so does the accused. Perhaps the details cannot be released sue the the investigations on-going status, but it has been over four years on some of these and there should be some answers by now. It’s a head scratch-er. I hope that the Governor and administration will give us some kind of information on what has happened and what will happen going forward. Otherwise, we are only left to wonder is the “choose respect” campaign only applies to those who do not wear a uniform.

  4. Lynn Willis

    Perhaps the most critical aspect of military success is the necessity of soldiers to obey orders. That subjugation to authority is instilled in these young soldiers and that subjugation to authority can be abused by unscrupulous people in leadership positions who can either perpetrate a crime directly or, perhaps worse, cover up the actions of those that abuse subordinates.
    I served over twenty years in the Alaska National Guard and I am sad that this situation was allowed to continue for so long without clear resolution. Unfortunately, the Alaska National Guard is extremely subject to political influence when situations like this arise. The problem can be compounded because you serve your entire career with the same people and that climate of familiarization and fraternisation can create problems with enforcing discipline.
    There is no clear line between military and civilian authority in the Alaska National Guard. Unless under federal active duty the senior ranking military authority in Alaska,as in every other state, is the Governor; however, in Alaska as in some other states, the Governor appoints the senior military officer who is also a state commissioner. That dual appointment can create these situations where the Adjutant General has divided priorities to support his troops or support the political career of the man who appointed him. The problem is compounded when the Governor then appoints a deputy commissioner whose only mission to protect the interests of the Governor. Also, those in line for promotion to positions at senior levels are never unaware of which political party is in power. .
    I hope our next Governor considers no longer allowing a single individual to be both a State Commissioner and a General Officer. That would help to stem the political influence that now permeates the organization and can result in situations like this where protecting the image of the Governor becomes as important to the Adjutant General/Commissioner as providing for the welfare of the troops.
    I understand the National Guard Federal Command Authority is now involved in the investigation of the specific events. Will the legislature also conduct hearings asking if the command structure of the Alaska National Guard creates excessive political influence within the organization?

  5. Becky

    Just got a text from a girlfriend telling me to jump on this site and read this story. This is unbelieveable. If these allegations are true, Governor Parnell needs to clean house, make ammends with the victime and apologize to the people of Alaska. Question for the Governor : would you have been as indifferent if one of your daugghters would have been victimized ?

  6. Janice B.

    I didn’t read the Shannyn Moore article in the Daily News today. When I read this column and linked back to her article, I was shocked at the Governor’s malfesance. How can he preach “choose respect” and then so disrespectfully turn his back on the potential victims of such horrid sex abuse. Where is his leadership not to mention his moral compass. I’ve been around long enough to know that there are two sides to every story; however, faiiling to take any action for years, not even an internal investigation, is reprehensible. Even still, in light of the attempted cover up I cannot understand why in the world this Mr. McHugh still is employed. The fact that he is turns my stomach and suggests that Parnell just doesn’t care. So much for choosing respect. I valued that program and respected the Governor for what I thought was his strong commitment to it. Now, it appears to be nothing more than empty words that were part of an elaborate PR hoodwink campaign. Governor, you aren’t the man I thought you were. You lack the ability to know the difference between right and wrong. You are disrespectful towards women and the men of the cloth that brought this issue to you.

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