As a municipal attorney representing local governments across the state for over 30 years, I deal with complaints of sexual harassment and improper behavior. These cases are investigated posthaste. Sound judgment, if not the law, requires nothing less.
Gov. Parnell's four-year failure to take command of his Alaska National Guard subordinates' sluggish response to dozens of rape and assault reports is inexcusable. No prosecutions have resulted from this torrent of assault claims. Parnell did recently write a letter calling for a federal investigation that may not be concluded until this fall.
In almost every incident I have handled, the accused, while receiving all legal process that is due, is promptly put on administrative leave pending resolution. An experienced independent investigator is sent in without delay to start digging and interviewing. Within a matter of weeks or days, the municipal administrator has a completed investigation, my legal recommendation and a plan of action. If the investigation substantiates the accusations, then suspension, demotion or termination results depending on the severity of the behavior.
Most of the cases I deal with involve workplace pornography, inappropriate speech or actions and sexual harassment. Upon the slightest insinuation of a sexual assault, my reaction would be all the more swift and thorough and I would call for a criminal investigation within the hour.
Rapid response tells the accuser that he or she is being heard, validated and protected. The veracity of the accuser or the number of available details do not come into play in deciding whether to take action. The investigation will mine the details. The safety and well-being of the victim are paramount. Expeditious execution of an investigation also affords the accused the greatest protection and quickly clears that person's name if the charges are unsubstantiated.
Not only does delay harm the investigation, it also communicates damaging messages like "We don't believe you" or "We don't care" to the victims and other employees. Even Parnell's slow-footed "letter" described the National Guard workplace as "a hostile environment and culture."
The fear of reprisal and intimidation by those wanting to come forward with details and the insidiousness of the ongoing abuse have been extensively reported.
The credibility of these complaints is evidenced by: (1) the number of times Parnell was confronted with these charges; (2) the variety of sources from whom he heard them; and (3) the risk the officers and chaplains were willing to take in order to bring this misconduct to the governor's attention. To hide behind a "lack of detail" excuse in rape and assault cases shows a fundamental lack of leadership.
The officers and chaplains who contacted the governor worked directly with the victims. They took significant risks in jumping the chain of command to contact the governor. When Parnell took no action, he failed the victims and the brave individuals who put their careers on the line to change the growing culture of abuse and tolerance of abuse in the Guard.
Sean Parnell is the "commander in chief" of the Alaska National Guard. Alaska Statute 26.05.170 states: "The governor's command is exercised through the adjutant general, who shall carry out the policies of the governor in military affairs. The adjutant general represents the governor and shall act in conformity with the governor's instructions. ..." One of Parnell's banner policies is "Choose Respect." When Parnell saw that this policy was not being implemented through the adjutant general, he should have swiftly intervened. A wait of four years is justice sadly delayed and quite possibly denied, as the evidence and witnesses' trail in some cases will have grown faint.
In proclaiming April 2014 as Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Parnell acknowledged that "victims of sexual assault commonly endure lasting emotional, physical, and psychological scars, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, substance abuse issues, phobias, heightened emotional reactions, interpersonal relationship issues, low self-esteem, changes in eating or sleeping patterns, anxiety, and many more. ..."
Victim validation is an important component of healing this enduring anguish. Tragically, for many of these victims, that validation may be long in coming.
Bill Walker is a lifelong Alaskan, attorney, husband of 37 years, father of four and grandfather of two. He is an independent candidate for governor.
By BILL WALKER