Former Kobuk village police officer Leon Outwater, 22, was sentenced Wednesday in Kotzebue Superior Court to three years in jail for sending text messages asking a 12-year-old girl for sex while on duty in December.
Alaska State Troopers reported the solicitation late last year, stating Outwater sent at least 20 text messages to the girl in a 24-hour period asking her for sex. He sent the messages from a village-owned cellphone while on the job. He was drunk while sending the texts, according to the charges.
Outwater originally faced three felony charges: soliciting first- and second-degree child sexual abuse of a minor as an authority figure and one charge of tampering with evidence. Due to a plea agreement, his charges were reduced to the single count of second-degree child sex abuse.
Outwater's sexual advances toward the girl happened on Nov. 16 and 17, according to the charges. The girl's mother became concerned about her daughter's safety after seeing the texts on a phone she had given the girl, and she called troopers in Kotzebue the morning of Nov. 20, the charges say.
"When relieved of his duties, Outwater tampered with evidence when he deleted the text messages from the phone," troopers said in a statement posted online at the time of his arrest.
The charges say another village police officer took over for Outwater after his shift ended, and the phone did not have the messages on it at that time.
A trooper investigating the mother's allegations learned that village records confirmed Outwater was on duty when he sent the text messages, something Outwater later admitted, according to the charges.
"I was drunk," he said, according to the charging document.
Kobuk, the community where Outwater briefly served, has a population of 141 and is on the Kobuk River above the Arctic Circle in Northwest Alaska. The village employs its own small police force. VPOs differ from village public safety officers, who are trained and overseen by the state's Department of Public Safety. VPOs are generally employed by individual villages.
During the sentencing Wednesday, prosecutor Aaron Michels argued Outwater "does not seem to be taking accountability for" his actions. Outwater allegedly said he believed he'd been texting an 18-year-old. There is no solid evidence of an honest mistake and the defendant's guilt is evidenced by the 20 messages sent over two days, Michels said.
"So the facts do not indicate it was a mistake or drunken accident," Michels said.
The state recommended a sentence of six years with three suspended, a recommendation Superior Court Judge Paul Roetman followed. Michels said he considered Outwater's lack of criminal history, but the defendant's crimes are made worse due to his position of authority.
Fairbanks defense attorney Matthew Tallerico argued Outwater's actions were possibly an accident. He said the recipient of the texts never asked who the sender was or identified herself, and she played along when Outwater thought he had the right person.
"It's unfortunate, but he wants to take responsibility," Tallerico said. "I think he sincerely believes he had the right number. ... He could have made an error."
When Outwater was asked if he would like to offer a comment, he simply said he thought he'd get a two-year sentence. Judge Roetman followed up with several questions, asking the defendant, among other things, what his thought process was while texting the young girl.
"I don't know," Outwater responded. "I was helping out my family and they don't help me, so I was just getting tired of it." He said he knew about a no-drinking policy while on duty, and he acknowledged contacting a 12-year-old girl was inappropriate.
The minimum amount of jail time the judge could have imposed was four years with two suspended. However, Roetman said, Outwater's integral role in the community justified a longer sentence. The judge also said he worried the solicitation wasn't an isolated incident.
Outwater told the court Wednesday he'd been working as a village officer for two months before his arrest. Roetman said officials for Kobuk quickly removed Outwater from his position and replaced him after learning of the solicitation.
Roetman also asked Michels if the state made any efforts to evaluate the village's hiring practices. According to court testimony, the highest grade Outwater completed was his junior year of high school, and he never obtained a GED. Outwater said he was too busy helping his grandparents to complete school. Michels said the state hadn't scrutinized Kobuk's hiring practices but attorneys had been in touch with troopers. The statewide law enforcement agency said VPO positions are hard to fill, and they're "hiring the best people they can find," the prosecutor said.
A City of Kobuk administrator declined to comment on the case.
Upon release, Outwater is required to register as a sex offender for 15 years.
By JERZY SHEDLOCK