A year after a Nome emergency dispatcher went public with the story of her sexual assault that went ignored by the very police department she worked for, the city faces the threat of new legal action from the ACLU.
On Tuesday, the ACLU of Alaska threatened to sue the City of Nome on behalf of Clarice “Bun” Hardy for what it described as an “utter failure” in Hardy’s case. The organization accused the city of a pattern of “systematic indifference to the sexual assault allegations of dozens of other Alaska Native women.”
The ACLU asked for a $500,000 settlement for Hardy and hinted that broader legal action could be forthcoming.
[A review of sexual assault cases handled by Nome police found 1 in 4 warranted more investigation. Now the audit has stalled.]
The ACLU is “prepared to seek justice for Ms. Hardy and for the other Alaska Native women in Nome whom the (Nome Police Department) has refused to protect” by filing a lawsuit alleging the women’s constitutional equal protection rights were violated, the letter said.
A Nome city official said Tuesday that the town’s “efforts to improve community policing, and sexual assault investigations in particular, have been well publicized.”
“The city continues to welcome public input on this process, but will not comment on any particular matter or investigation,” wrote John Handeland, Nome’s interim city manager, in an email Tuesday.
Last fall, Hardy, 35, went public with her story first at a public meeting and then in the Daily News.
Other women went public with similar experiences, putting pressure on the Nome Police Department to account for years of mishandling of sexual assault investigations. Daily News coverage of the stories led, in part, to an ongoing investigation into sexual violence and the criminal justice system in Alaska.
[Read our series: Lawless - sexual violence in Alaska]
The department agreed to audit every sexual assault case it investigated from 2005, and a group of Nome survivor advocates successfully pushed for a first-of-its-kind police oversight council made up of citizens.
The oversight council is unique in the state in that it has real power and “adds another layer of transparency” for people in Nome, said ACLU spokeswoman Megan Edge.
But for Hardy, who has left her job and moved to Shaktoolik, the personal fallout continues. She has been diagnosed with PTSD and went from a basketball-playing community volunteer to a person who says she struggles to leave her house some days.
‘So belittled, so small’
Hardy was working as an emergency dispatcher for the Nome Police Department in March 2017 when she left a bar after a few drinks feeling “woozy.” She remembers nothing until waking up the next day partly clothed, according to the ACLU letter.
Later that day, Hardy heard that a video of a local man sexually assaulting her was being circulated on Snapchat.
She told a colleague at the Nome Police Department about the assault. The officer, Nick Harvey, never opened a case to investigate further, according to Hardy and the ACLU.
“I just felt so belittled, so small,” Hardy said.
A year after the assault, in March 2018, Hardy approached then-police chief John Papasodora. He told her there was no record of her complaint and that she needed to submit it again for it to be forwarded to the Alaska State Troopers, according to the ACLU letter.
“Weeks later she found her report still lying on the chief’s desk,” the letter said.
By the time Hardy contacted troopers directly and an investigation began, it was too late, said the ACLU says. Snapchat records that could have bolstered Hardy’s account and led to prosecution had been destroyed.
It is “very unlikely” the case could be prosecuted now, Edge said.
“Because it was mishandled she’ll never be able to seek a criminal case against her attacker,” Edge said. “Ms. Hardy is essentially facing a lifetime of recovery from this trauma.”
[Native women in Nome say police ignored rapes or failed to thoroughly investigate them]
‘I’m not alone anymore’
On Tuesday, Hardy said in a phone interview that she is afraid to travel to Nome for medical appointments. “I went from being a very, very active community member and volunteering and everything to where I can’t even deal with a crowd,” she said.
Hardy sees the public safety commission as a step forward but has questions about the timeline for instituting the change. The council is not yet up and running but as of early September had members appointed by Nome’s mayor, Richard Beneville.
“What’s taking so long?” Hardy asked.
Hardy says she is buoyed by the kinship she feels to other women who’ve spoken up about sexual assault and police indifference.
“It’s hard," she said. “But my goal is to make sure nobody has to go through this. And I’m going to see it through.”
If you have experienced sexual violence in Alaska or wish to talk to a reporter about the criminal justice system, please consider taking part in this confidential Daily News and ProPublica survey.