Miller bodyguards at forum included active-duty soldiers

Questions surround Miller's use of security force at school

October 18, 2010 

Was Joe Miller required to bring a security detail to his town hall meeting Sunday at Central Middle School?

That's what Miller, the Republican Senate candidate, told two national cable news networks Monday in the wake of the arrest by his security squad of an online journalist at his public event.

But the school district said there was no such requirement made of Miller -- he only had to provide a hall and parking lot monitor, and advise participants of school district courtesy and food rules.

Meanwhile, the Army says that two of the guards who assisted in the arrest of the journalist and who tried to prevent two other reporters from filming the detention were active-duty soldiers moonlighting for Miller's security contractor, the Drop Zone, a Spenard surplus store and protection service.

The soldiers, Spc. Tyler Ellingboe, 22, and Sgt. Alexander Valdez, 31, are assigned to the 3rd Maneuver Enhancement Brigade at Fort Richardson. Maj. Bill Coppernoll, the public affairs officer for the Army in Alaska, said the two soldiers did not have permission from their current chain of command to work for the Drop Zone, but the Army was still researching whether previous company or brigade commanders authorized their employment.

The Army allows off-duty soldiers to take outside employment if the job doesn't interfere with their readiness, doesn't risk their own injury and doesn't negatively affect the "good order" and discipline of their unit, Coppernoll said.

"They've got to be up front with the chain of command," Coppernoll said. "The chain of command needs to agree they can do that without affecting the readiness and the whole slew of things that are part of being a soldier that they need to do first."

Miller's chief guard at the Middle School event, Drop Zone owner William Fulton, said it wasn't his job to ensure soldiers complied with the regulations, though he said he informs them of their duty.

"They're adults -- they are responsible for themselves," Fulton said.

He said the two soldiers called him Monday and said they may be in trouble.


Fulton said he placed the journalist, Alaska Dispatch editor and founder Tony Hopfinger, under a private person's arrest, which in Alaska is like a citizen's arrest in other states.

Anchorage Police Dept. spokesman Lt. David Parker said any person witnessing a crime can make a private person's arrest, though it's almost always used by store or mall guards who catch someone shoplifting or who confront someone previously kicked out of a store and told to never come back. When the police arrive, they decide based on the circumstances whether to jail or free the subject of the private person's arrest.

Parker said that someone making a private person's arrest has a right to restrain the subject -- as long as the arrest is legal in the first place.

"Usually they have some kind of identification," Parker said.

In the case of the Drop Zone guards, who were dressed in blazers and ties and wore radio pieces in their ears, they refused to give their names, say who they worked for, or cite the authority under which they were issuing commands to reporters.

After the 45-minute town hall meeting, which attracted about 200 people, Hopfinger followed Miller from the room. As he held a small video camera, he peppered Miller with questions about his employment as a lawyer at the Fairbanks North Star Borough, where he was disciplined for using government computers for partisan activity.

Miller had said last week he wouldn't answer questions about his character or personal behavior. He told CNN and the Fox News Channel on Monday that Hopfinger was harassing him. Hopfinger said he was being aggressive but not improperly so.

Miller said Hopfinger blocked his access to a school exit, and he and an aide had to turn back the other way. At some point in those moments, Fulton told Hopfinger he was trespassing. Hopfinger said he was surrounded by hostile people and shoved someone to get some space.

Fulton said he arrested Hopfinger for trespassing and assault. He said he had the right to arrest him for trespass because the campaign had rented the space from the school district and had the right to exclude anyone, though the district said it rented the cafeteria, stage and parking lot, not the hall where the arrest took place.

When the police arrived, they freed Hopfinger and let him go after taking statements. Anchorage Municipal Prosecutor Al Patterson said Monday he expects to decide today whether to charge Hopfinger.


Miller gave interviews to Fox and CNN on Monday. He told Fox, "I might also note that the middle school itself required us by a contract for a campaign, required us to have a security team." He told CNN, "There was a -- a private security team that was required. We had to hire them because the school required that as a term in their lease."

But district spokeswoman Heidi Embley said that wasn't true.

"We do not require users to hire security," she said. Renters must only have a security plan to protect users and the school itself, she said, and can resolve the issues with "monitors."

The contract the district has renters sign requires groups to make an "expectation speech" at the beginning of an event reminding people to be respectful, to park properly, and to remain only in permitted areas. That did not happen Sunday.

In a statement issued Monday, the campaign appeared to back off from Miller's assertions that a security team was required by the district.

"Per the 'Facility Rental Security Plan Requirement,' the Miller campaign hired security to monitor the event," the statement said. "One of the purposes of the security personnel was to enforce the Anchorage School District requirement of 'no disruptive behavior' at events within the facility. The security personnel made the determination that the man in question was being disruptive by his actions towards Joe and by pushing someone attending the event into a locker and enforced the rule."

Find Richard Mauer online at or call 257-4345.

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