Retired Alaska state trooper lieutenant Lonny Piscoya is Alaska’s new missing and murdered Indigenous persons investigator. He fills the vacancy left by Anne Sears, who went back into retirement in early September after five months on the job.
Piscoya, who retired in 2018 after 25 years with the troopers, is now responsible for leading the Alaska Department of Public Safety’s outreach efforts for the MMIP initiative and will assist the Alaska Bureau of Investigation with active and cold-case murder and missing person cases involving Alaska Natives.
Sears’ last day on the job was Sept. 2; Piscoya’s first day was Sept. 19. He had been happily retired for almost four years before Public Safety Commissioner James Cockrell asked him to fill the role. It took him a week to decide.
But Piscoya saw that the job was “a culmination of what I had been seeing and hearing and knowing about all my life in Nome. We’ve got murdered and missing Indigenous people — my own people — and so I thought it was a worthy cause to come out of retirement to take on.”
“These are some of my uncles and aunts and cousins and friends that I’ve learned all my life that this has happened. And, as a trooper of 25 years, it just was continuous,” said Piscoya.
Piscoya, from Nome and a tribal member of the Nome Eskimo Community, joined the troopers in 1993. During his career, he patrolled in Fairbanks, Galena, Interior Alaska, Southeast Alaska and Ketchikan. He worked as a post supervisor, AST Tactical Dive Team member and detachment deputy commander.
Piscoya currently lives in Soldotna and will be primarily based there for this job. He’s committed to leading the MMIP initiative for a year.
“I can’t give you a number of how many cases I would like to have resolved or solved or completed. It’s difficult to say how long each of these cases would take to solve them and to make an arrest or to charge somebody,” he said.
“But I want to leave after at least a year’s time with some of these cases solved. I can’t give you a number. If it’s just one, well, that’s one more case that’s been solved and that’s another set of family members that can have closure,” Piscoya said.
Across the country, thousands of cases of missing and murdered Indigenous people are unsolved and many go unreported. Of states with the highest number of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls cases, Alaska is fourth, according to a report by the Urban Indian Health Institute. Anchorage ranks third in the top 10 cities with the most cases.
In 2020, Alaska ranked first in the nation in the rate of women killed by men — 3.43 per 100,000 women — according to the most recent Violence Policy Center report. Of those women killed, American Indian/Alaska Native women are disproportionately impacted. The rate of American Indian/Alaska Native women killed by men in the state was 12.63 per 100,000 women, which is more than 3 1/2 times the rate for all women in Alaska and 10 times the rate for white women in Alaska.
The U.S. Department of Justice recently announced it will provide more than $246 million in grants to Native American and Alaska Native communities for improvements in law enforcement and justice.
Piscoya said when he started the MMIP job last week, he was asked to look at the case of Arnoldine Simone Hill, a 26-year-old Hooper Bay woman whose body was found along the Parks Highway in early January 2021. Piscoya said he’ll bring a fresh point of view to this and other cases.
“These investigators put a lot of work into this case. There’s supplemental report after supplemental report about different things that come in these cases. Sometimes they forget about previous things, sometimes they get inundated with other cases. And so, for me, it’s a fresh look. I’m not on a patrol schedule or a schedule to where I’m going to be called to a new case, I’m here to solely concentrate on the one case,” he said.
When Sears retired, the department said the next MMIP investigator will likely work with a tribal liaison on outreach and engagement. That’s not happening just yet. Preliminary efforts are still underway before the department can recruit and hire for a tribal liaison to work with the MMIP investigator and other Alaska state troopers to improve communication with Alaska’s tribes, said Austin McDaniel, communications director for the Department of Public Safety.
Piscoya, as MMIP investigator, will be part of the Governor’s Alaska Council on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons. The council, which started meeting earlier this year, is tasked with delivering a final report to the governor by Oct. 15 that provides recommendations for improving interagency cooperation on missing person protocols, improving public safety in tribal communities that have no law enforcement presence and offering ways to improve investigations.
The council’s next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 4 at 2 p.m.
Originally published by the Alaska Beacon, an independent, nonpartisan news organization that covers Alaska state government.