Alaska News

Troopers say they mistakenly transported Mat-Su principal to hospital for psychiatric evaluation on invalid court order

Alaska State Troopers transported the principal of Colony High School to a hospital for an involuntary psychiatric evaluation last week on an invalid court order, officials said this week.

Mary Fulp livestreamed the encounter on Facebook. In the video — which has now been viewed more than 45,000 times — she said the evaluation is being ordered because of her fervent Christian beliefs.

Commissioner James Cockrell, who oversees the Department of Public Safety, said in a statement Tuesday that the incident is under investigation and officials plan to review policies and procedures.

“Based on the limited information we have been able to learn about this incident from the Alaska Court System it appears that we made a mistake by transporting the adult female for an evaluation,” he said. “Our staff should have taken additional steps to verify the information presented by the complainant and the validity of the court order.”

Fulp started this school year as principal at Colony High School after serving as principal at Colony Middle School next door for 15 years. She was named Alaska’s Principal of the Year in 2022 by the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

Colony High School principal Mary Fulp

The Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District sent a message to families at the high school last week after the video emerged. Superintendent Randy Trani said officials were aware of and monitoring the situation.

A spokeswoman for the school district did not return messages Tuesday and Wednesday but declined on Monday to comment on Fulp’s employment status.

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The Constitution allows for the expression but not the endorsement of religion in public schools.

In a Facebook post the day of the incident, Jan. 18, Fulp said she wasn’t at work that day because her “supervisor needed some time to process what had unfolded over the course of a very short time,” an apparent reference to a religious revelation she described in a four-hour video posted the previous weekend. Fulp also said she would have been at school “if I wasn’t operating with such grace and compassion for this new level of a testimony that just hit the floodgates over the weekend.”

The encounter involving the invalid court order occurred on the second visit from law enforcement to Fulp’s home in one day.

Troopers had been called to Fulp’s home on Jan. 18 by someone requesting a welfare check because she was not answering the door and “he had concerns for her mental health,” said spokesman Austin McDaniel in an emailed statement.

A trooper visited Fulp’s home at 11:45 a.m. and spoke with her and the man who had requested the wellness check, McDaniel wrote. The trooper left about 25 minutes later and determined Fulp was not showing major signs of a mental health issue that would cause her to harm herself or others — the conditions required to initiate an involuntary psychiatric commitment.

Fulp described the first encounter in a separate Facebook post and said her family had called for her to get a psychiatric evaluation.

Just before 5 p.m., a second person called troopers via 911 “stating that she had a signed order from a judge that (Fulp) was to be involuntarily committed to the nearest mental health evaluation facility,” McDaniel wrote. Both of the people who contacted troopers that day regarding Fulp knew her, he said in an interview.

Troopers Sgt. Matthew Sidders and Trooper Jacob Switzer went to the caller’s home and were shown a document that the caller claimed was signed by a judge, McDaniel said. It called for Fulp to be transported to the hospital for an involuntary psychiatric evaluation, McDaniel said.

Alaska Department of Public Safety Commissioner James Cockrell Narcotics seizure

The order “appeared to be signed by a judge and appeared to be valid,” he said. The troopers did not take the order or copy it, McDaniel said. The caller has since declined to provide the order to officials with the Department of Public Safety, who are trying to obtain it for their current investigation, McDaniel said. He declined to say if the documents were forged or if troopers were investigating criminal activity on behalf of the caller.

State law allows for a concerned party to petition the court for an involuntary mental health commitment if they believe someone is “gravely disabled” as a result of mental illness or likely to present serious harm to themselves or others. If there is probable cause, a judge can issue an order for involuntary commitment, and the person in question is then brought to a medical facility for examination or treatment.

The court system directly provides law enforcement with a copy of the order, petition and a request for transport when an order is issued for someone who is not already at a facility or in custody, said Rebecca Koford, a spokeswoman for the court system. Petitioners are not asked to arrange for transport themselves, she said.

Law enforcement officers can also begin proceedings to have a person evaluated if they believe they are a danger to themselves or others. That’s what happened at a Mat-Su school last year when troopers required an involuntary commitment of a Wasilla special-needs elementary student — against the wishes of the boy’s parents, who were there — in an encounter at Tanaina Elementary that involved a trooper pepper-spraying the student.

Last week, troopers went to Fulp’s residence to tell her about the order and drive her to Mat-Su Regional Medical Center. They acknowledged she “was not exhibiting grave disability from mental health and was not likely to cause serious harm to herself or others,” McDaniel said.

In her livestream, Fulp described how she was being “taken to the hospital for claiming that Jesus is King and claiming that I stand with the Martin Luther King civil rights movement.” She complied with the troopers’ request and the roughly 20-minute video ended as they arrived at the hospital around 5:45 p.m. Fulp could be heard speaking for the duration of the ride.

The troopers escorted Fulp into the hospital, and McDaniel said they did not provide any documentation or orders to the facility. The court system does not directly send involuntary commitment orders or documents to hospitals because it’s not always clear which hospital someone will be taken to, Koford said. Documentation for such orders are sent to the Alaska Psychiatric Institute and a coordinator with the state Department of Health and Social Services, she said. In situations involving transport from law enforcement, the officers likely provides orders to hospital staff, Koford said.

McDaniel said he did not know how long Fulp was held at the hospital. She didn’t respond to messages left by a reporter.

A citizen contacted the public safety department Friday to report that the court order presented to troopers for Fulp’s commitment may not have been valid, McDaniel said. The public safety commissioner, Cockrell, ordered a review of the incident that day.

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The department requested copies of the documents from the court so they could determine if they were valid, but McDaniel said the requests were denied. Involuntary commitment orders are confidential.

On Tuesday, the court system issued a statement saying there was no valid court order for Fulp’s commitment.

“The court did not issue any order to take Ms. Fulp into custody, or to detain her, or to have her undergo a hospitalization for any reason,” Koford said. “The actions by law enforcement in this instance were not undertaken or carried out pursuant to or as a result of any court order.”

Koford said she could not comment on whether a request for Fulp’s commitment had ever been made to the court or if such an order had been denied.

Cockrell has ordered an internal review of the policies and procedures related to involuntary commitments. McDaniel said he could not disclose if Switzer or Sidders had violated department policy.

“We take full responsibility for this and want to assure the public that we are taking necessary steps to ensure that incidents like this never happen again,” Cockrell said in the statement. “This type of situation is unacceptable, and you have my commitment that we will do better.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that the Constitution forbids school officials from expressing religion in schools. The Constitution allows for the expression of religion in public schools, but officials cannot endorse any particular religion.

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Tess Williams

Tess Williams is a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News, focusing on breaking news. Before joining the ADN in 2019, she was a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota and previously helped cover the Nebraska Legislature for The Associated Press. Contact her at twilliams@adn.com.

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