Tag Archives: alaska national guard

Parnell responds to his handling of allegations of sexual abuse in the Guard

After a candidate forum on Monday, Gov. Sean Parnell answered questions about his administration’s handling of allegations of sexual abuse in Alaska’s National Guard, something that appears to have plagued the Guard for years. The problems in the Guard were reported in the media last October, and were revisited in a Sunday column by Shannyn Moore. More is likely to be revealed about the issue. For now, however, below are the allegations that I questioned Parnell about, followed by his response.

  • Allegation: Parnell waited for four years to act on allegations of a widespread culture of abuse in the Guard. In 2010, three chaplains had a meeting with Parnell to discuss the culture. Republican Sen. Fred Dyson called on Parnell three times to take action. However, it wasn’t until March 2014 that Parnell called on the federal government to conduct an official investigation into the allegations.
  • Response: Parnell said that the allegations lacked the specificity that he needed to take action. He said he met with now Adjutant General Thomas Katkus about the issue. He said he reviewed charts and spreadsheets that documented the allegations, and saw that the appropriate ones had been referred to the Anchorage Police Department and the troopers. On February 26, Republican Sen. Fred Dyson brought forth a “specific person who was able to make specific claims about what went wrong,” Parnell said. Parnell himself talked to this person, and within 24 hours, called on the feds. That investigation is expected to be complete in May. A report will follow likely sometime late summer.
  • Allegation: Parnell’s deputy commissioner of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, McHugh Pierre, tried to get a sexual assault investigator to stay quiet and not talk to legislators about the issues in the Guard by having her sign a letter saying she wouldn’t do so. He then tried to get the Guard chaplains to sign the same letter.
  • Response: Parnell said that he was “surprised’ by the accusation. But when he looked into it, it was “less nefarious than what had been reported,” he said. Indeed, the letter in question, which you can read here, is one that went to other department employees. It says that employees should not give official statements without prior authorizations, and that although, according to the letter, “the mandate does not mean that an employee cannot reach out to one’s legislator to address a personal situation,” such contact had to take place during personal time using personal resources.

Finally, Moore reported that Mike Nizich, Parnell’s chief of staff, was using his personal email to correspond with the chaplains about the issues in the Guard. Personal emails are not subject to public information requests. Parnell said that if those emails were about state business, they should be forwarded to Nizich’s state account and will direct him to do so.

Contact Amanda Coyne at amandamcoyne@yahoo.com


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 amandamcoyne@yahoo.com