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.
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