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Father, son from Tanana plead not guilty in incident that left 2 troopers dead

Dermot Cole

FAIRBANKS — As guards escorted Arvin Kangas out of a courtroom in handcuffs Tuesday, he shouted to his son to “stay strong” and mentioned something about how it is “pretty hard not to love” a member of your own family.

Arvin Kangas, 58, and Nathanial Kangas, 20, the two men at the center of the dispute in which two Alaska State Troopers died in Tanana May 1, entered pleas of not guilty Tuesday afternoon.

The younger man, who faces murder charges, sat in the front row of the jury box in the fourth-floor courtroom, handcuffed to four other prisoners. His father Arvin Kangas, 58, sat in the back row at the other end of the jury box, handcuffed to three other men. The older man is accused of evidence tampering and hindering prosecution.

Law enforcement officers and others filled the public seating area of the courtroom.

Neither man spoke during the arraignments. Through their attorneys, both men requested jury trials, currently scheduled to take place in July in Nenana.

They looked at each other during the court hearing, but did not speak until the group of four prisoners that included Arvin was escorted to the exit. One of the guards with Arvin cautioned him against speaking.

A bail hearing for Nathanial is set for Friday morning. After his arrest, bail was set at $4 milion. The senior Kangas would have to post a $10,000 performance bond and find a court-approved third-party custodian to make bail. The release conditions would prohibit contact with his son or any witnesses in the case.

The tribal government of Tanana wants to prevent him from returning to the village, but the state said he’s not going back any time soon.

“With the third-party custodian requirement, he would have to come to court before he was released,” said prosecutor Gregg Olson. “There is interest in the Tanana Tribal Council and actually the Ruby Tribal Council that he not be returned to the village. But he’s got another court date before . . . he could even do that.”

Joan Wilson, an attorney representing the Tanana Tribal Council, said the tribal government will seek to restrict his return to Tanana. The tribal council has said it would like to banish Kangas from the village.

The defense attorney for Arvin Kangas, Jim Cannon, said the tribal government is not a party to the case. “For the record, we would dispute that the tribe is entitled to any special status in state court in a criminal matter,” said Cannon.

“The tribe employs many people who are victims and witnesses,” Wilson responded.

Superior Court Judge Bethany Harbison said the matter of what legal authority exists or doesn’t exist would need to be resolved at some other court proceeding.

Trooper Sgt. Scott Johnson and Trooper Gabe Rich went to Tanana May 1, seeking to arrest the elder Kangas after a run-in he had with a village public safety officer the previous day.

The authorities charged that Nathanial shot the two troopers as they tried to arrest his father.