Review: State's new ferry security officer properly vetted

Alex DeMarban

A review ordered by Gov. Sean Parnell into the hiring of a former police officer accused of sexual harassment has found that state officials conducted proper background checks before the man was hired.

The review into the hiring of Jason Joel, selected last month as security officer for the Alaska ferry system, included speaking with former employers and references, according to a statement from Transportation Commissioner Pat Kemp.

The review confirmed a background check was performed using guidelines spelled out by the Transportation Security Administration and that the hiring process properly followed state law, Kemp said. Kemp added that Joel, like other state employees, will be subject to a probationary period that includes a performance review. "The State of Alaska takes all employee matters seriously," said Kemp.

News outlets in Haines this month publicized complaints that Joel harassed women there, though only one of those who witnessed or experienced the behavior chose to go on record. "There was some form or other of harassment - verbal, physical, sexual - almost every time we worked together," said Angie Goodwin, a former dispatcher who worked with Joel between 2009 and 2011, in an interview with the Haines public radio station.

Goodwin complained about the harassment to then Police Chief Gary Lowe in 2011. Joel resigned shortly afterward, with an agreement keeping important details of his work history in Haines confidential, according to past news accounts. He went to work for police departments in St. Paul in the Bering Sea and in Galena in the Interior.

The Alaska Police Standards Council, looking into Joel's conduct, initiated the process to revoke Joel's police certification starting in early 2012. Later that year, Joel chose to surrender that certificate rather than fight the revocation in a public venue.

The Transportation Department released scant details about how Joel was hired, saying the process was confidential. A Google search would have revealed the investigation by the council and that Joel resigned in Haines under questionable circumstances.

Joel, who makes between $5,000 and $8,000 monthly to implement security plans for the ferry system, has said he cannot comment.

Democrats have blasted Parnell over the hiring and the follow-up. "Is Sean Parnell really going to stand by the hire of a man with a record of sexual harassment?" said Kay Brown, executive director of the Alaska Democratic Party in a statement on Friday. "Jason Joel's hire and the state's defense of it demonstrate that Parnell hasn't instituted a vetting process to prevent hiring men with a record of sexual abuse."

Parnell's office has said he did not hire Joel, and that personnel issues are handled at the agency level. But after the reports surfaced, Parnell last week directed Kemp to initiate the review.