Wrongful termination case brought by Anchorage police lieutenant goes to jury

Jurors began deliberations Thursday over whether the city of Anchorage wrongfully fired a police lieutenant in 2015 in a highly charged federal case suffused with allegations from both sides of lies and misconduct.

The case began Oct. 15 in U.S. District Court in downtown Anchorage. Over nearly three weeks, attorneys picked through thousands of pages of documents and called more than a dozen witnesses to testify.

At stake could be an award of more than $1 million in damages against the city, though Anthony Henry may still lose his police license in a separate proceeding. The case also raised questions about the scope and extent of investigations into sexual assaults and drug-dealing in the National Guard.

The jury must decide, among other things, that the city's treatment of Henry violated good faith and fair dealing laws.

In the course of the trial, two very different stories emerged. Henry's attorneys, Ray Brown and Meg Simonian, sought to demonstrate a years-long campaign of retaliation that culminated in Henry's firing, as well as an investigation that was orchestrated to set their client up as a liar.

The city's case was more narrow and simple. Attorney David Parker summarized the main thrust of it at the start of his closing statements: "Cops can't lie."

To Henry's attorneys, he was a dedicated officer who was targeted for trying to stand up for a fellow officer with a medical condition and marked as a malcontent. During the trial, Simonian displayed an email from then-Chief Mark Mew, where he described sending then-internal affairs investigator Kevin Vandergriff to a conference aimed at getting rid of "corrosive employees."

Simonian and Brown also sought to undermine the credibility of Rick Brown, the investigator who wrote the confidential report leading to Henry's firing, and his accusers, including a former lieutenant colonel in the National Guard, Kenneth Blaylock, who was a key source of allegations about corruption, sexual assault and drug-dealing in the Guard.

The former commander of the National Guard, Maj. Col. Thomas Katkus, testified early to deny any cover-up or wrongdoing by himself or Henry.

Parker, the city's attorney, showed records that he said showed Henry's story had changed significantly over time since he was interviewed by the private investigator, Brown, in fall 2014.

He pointed to a transcript of Henry's 2014 interviews with Brown, and then with Vandergriff. Henry adamantly insisted to Brown there was not a second meeting with Katkus on June 4, 2010, where sexual assaults were discussed, Parker said.

Now, Henry says that meeting occurred, Parker said.

Henry also told Brown in 2014 that a subordinate officer, Seth McMillan, was the one who disclosed an investigation into drug-dealing among Guard recruiters to Katkus, but Henry later said he was the one who made the disclosure, Parker said.

Such inconsistencies were "an indicator of dishonesty," Brown, the private investigator, said on the witness stand.

Henry said he was relying on information he had at the time but was not willfully misleading investigators. During the trial, Henry said he was the one who told Katkus that the Guard member, Eduardo Prieto, was suspected of drug activity, but it was appropriate and not unusual to do so.

Henry's attorneys also said that there no drug investigation was ever derailed by that disclosure. Prieto was the only Guard recruiter who was ever tied to drug-dealing, Simonian told the jury.

Beyond that, there were only suspicions but never any proof, she said.

Simonian also worked to turn the dishonesty argument on its head, insisting that other officers at the Anchorage Police Department had lied in order to get Henry in trouble. Meanwhile, Brown's report summary selectively left out details that would have been favorable to Henry, Simonian said.

In closing statements, a large amount of attention was dedicated to the June 4, 2010 meeting with Katkus, Blaylock, the chief of staff Tim DeHaas, then- APD Sgt. Darrel Redick, Henry and McMillan. During that meeting, Katkus asked Blaylock to give him the names of sexual assault victims, and Blaylock refused.

Katkus said he was trying to make sure victims got the help they needed. On the witness stand, Blaylock, who now lives on a small farm in Palmer and now works as a farmer and mixed martial-arts instructor, said the meeting further discouraged women from reporting. He also said he was ordered to only bring names to Katkus or his chief of staff, not the police.

Redick, who attended the meeting with Henry and is now retired, drew a map of Katkus' office during his witness testimony. He said he recalled the conversation was surrounding the Guard's policy or regulations.

He said he did not hear Katkus order Blaylock not to take names to police, and that if he'd heard that it "would have raised concern." Henry made similar statements during his witness testimony.

Henry's attorneys also showed the jury an FBI report where an agent, Steve Payne, concluded that there was no evidence to support Blaylock's claims. Payne's summary of his Simonian accused Blaylock of "weaponizing" victims to carry out a personal vendetta against the National Guard commanders. Blaylock said during trial that he was trying to report what he saw as a culture of fear and suspicion among sexual assault victims. He also disputed Payne's summary of his investigation.

The jury is slated to reach a verdict in the coming days. Henry is seeking damages that include lost pay, past and future, and also non-economic damages. His lawyers say the firing forced him to take a job at the U.S. Embassy in Iraq away from his family, and on the stand, Henry tearfully said it had "destroyed his life."

The litigation has already cost Anchorage taxpayers more than $1 million to date, city officials have said.

Henry could still lose his police license even if he wins this case. Because he was fired, he still has to make a separate case before the Alaska Police Standards Council to keep his license.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated Anthony Henry's contention that he was not willfully misleading investigators during interviews. 

Devin Kelly

Devin Kelly was an ADN staff reporter.