Branchflower to lead Monegan firing review

Megan Holland

Steve Branchflower, a retired longtime Alaska assistant district attorney, has been named special counsel to investigate the firing of former Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan by Gov. Sarah Palin.

Kim Elton, D-Juneau, chairman of the Legislative Council, announced the appointment today. The council voted earlier in the week to spend $100,000 to investigate the Monegan firing and related issues.

"Alaskans are calling for a complete and fair investigation into why Walt Monegan was fired and if it had anything to do with Trooper Mike Wooten," Elton said in a press release.

"Steve Branchflower is a highly respected prosecutor and public servant," said Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage. "If there were wrongs committed, he will find them. If there were not, he has the professional experience and good judgment to say so."

Branchflower will begin work immediately. He will investigate the circumstances around Monegan's firing by Palin. The investigation is expected to take several months.

Palin abruptly fired Monegan on July 11 and later explained she wanted to take the Department of Public Safety in a different, more energetic direction. She replaced him with Chuck Kopp, the Kenai police chief. But Kopp resigned a week ago over questions about a reprimand he received after a 2005 sexual harassment complaint.

On Monday, the council voted 12-0 to spend up to $100,000 "to investigate the circumstances and events surrounding the termination of former Public Safety Commissioner Monegan, and potential abuses of power and/or improper actions by members of the executive branch."

Questions have been raised since Monegan's firing about whether Palin, her family or members of her administration pressured Monegan to fire Mike Wooten, a Mat-Su-based trooper involved in a rough divorce from the governor's sister. Monegan contends he did feel such pressure.

Palin contends she did nothing wrong and said she welcomes an investigation.

Branchflower was an Anchorage prosecutor for 28 years and returned briefly after retirement in 2002 to run the Legislature's newly created Office of Victims Rights. For much of his time in the Anchorage District Attorney's office, he ran the intake unit, evaluating cases submitted by police and troopers for prosecution. He also occasionally tried cases, generally high-profile murders.

His wife, Linda Branchflower, was a detective with the Anchorage Police Department, assigned to the homicide unit for several years before she retired in 2002. She returned to police work after retirement as a special investigator for a cold case unit set up by the Alaska State Troopers. She was an investigator on the Kent Leppink murder, which resulted in the highly publicized conviction last year of Mechele Linehan.

Both Branchflowers re-retired in 2005 and are currently living in South Carolina.

Deputy Commissioner John Glass is heading Public Safety until the governor names a new commissioner.

We are continuing to report this story and will post further updates as soon as we have them. See tomorrow's newspaper for full details.

PDF: State trooper notes on interview with Sarah Palin
PDF: State trooper notes on interview with Todd Palin 08/08/2005
PDF: Transcript of interview with Sarah Palin and state troopers