Anchorage Assembly leaders say they’re still seeking more information about events preceding the departure of former Police Chief Ken McCoy after a trove of records released by Mayor Dave Bronson’s administration partially corroborated an anonymously sourced account of events alleged to be linked to his resignation.
The 60 pages of records released last week do not include any reference to the reasons for McCoy’s resignation, which he announced in November after just four months working under newly elected Bronson. And McCoy himself also has not given a detailed explanation of the reasons for his decision, though he’s acknowledged that “politics” played a part.
Instead, even after the release of the new documents, Assembly members are still trying to assess the credibility of the anonymously sourced account published three months ago by the Alaska Landmine — which they said contained “serious allegations” that merit further investigation.
The report attributed McCoy’s decision to resign to three separate incidents involving “improper demands” from Bronson’s administration, only two of which involved the police department.
Bronson’s administration, initially, flatly denied that all three reported events had taken place, but later said that the incident not involving police did, in fact, occur.
Assembly leaders, seeking to assess the validity of the Landmine’s account, filed a public records request that led to the release of the documents last week.
The records provide further evidence of the incident previously acknowledged by the city: that the mayor ordered a temporary shutoff of fluoridation of the city’s water supply in spite of city code requiring it.
The documents also indicate that the Landmine’s description of a second incident involving a man sick with COVID-19 has at least some factual basis.
But the documents still did not fully corroborate the other two alleged incidents — that the administration attempted to order McCoy to send officers to “rescue” a sick man from a medical facility, and to instruct officers to leave a chaotic Assembly meeting. The documents also did not include any evidence linking those events to McCoy’s departure.
Assembly leaders said they haven’t decided on their exact next steps. But Vice Chair Chris Constant said he wants to hear from the former chief directly.
“I think that what’s in order next is an interview in public with Chief McCoy,” Constant said.
In phone interviews, Assembly leaders said they still have questions about both McCoy’s departure and the events that the Landmine said sparked it — particularly the incident in which Bronson’s administration, at a time when city officials were clashing with hospital leaders, allegedly ordered McCoy to send police to an Anchorage medical facility to “rescue” the man with COVID-19.
“If, in fact, proof were established that the mayor had ordered to have some activities occur within a hospital, that would have been a stark and stunning violation of the public trust. We don’t have that record, but that question was raised and therefore we had a duty to answer that question,” Constant said. “The issue of McCoy leaving — you have to check with him as to why — it was parallel.”
Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance said members had also received reports from within the administration that corroborated some of the Landmine’s reporting.
“It comes down to the Assembly’s duty to investigate as part of the checks and balances of government,” she said.
McCoy, who was Anchorage’s first Black police chief and now works as Providence Alaska’s chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer, declined to comment. His only public remarks on his departure came last month at an online event that its host, the Alaska Black Caucus, billed as an “exclusive” community conversation with McCoy.
Asked to explain why he resigned, McCoy said there was “not one specific reason.”
“From politics, to organizational priorities to simply some of my beliefs and values played a factor in my decision. There were long-term career goals and opportunities and family considerations that played a part,” he said. “It was the hardest decision of my career.”
Bronson’s administration declined interview requests about the newly released records. But in a letter to Assembly leaders that accompanied the administration’s release of the documents, Municipal Manager Amy Demboski rejected any idea that the records corroborate the Landmine’s account of McCoy’s departure.
She also criticized Assembly leaders for asking for the documents based on the anonymously sourced report.
“I want to be clear that numerous events alleged in your records request simply never happened,” Demboski said in a letter to Constant and LaFrance that was included in the response to their records request. “The hundreds of employee hours it has taken to pull together this request, based on gossip and misinformation, is disappointing. Taxpayers expect elected officials to be better stewards of municipal resources.”
While Bronson administration officials had previously acknowledged the fluoride shutoff, the new records released this week add weight to a second element of the Landmine’s report, which alleged that Bronson’s office ordered McCoy to have officers rescue the man with COVID-19, “and/or compel medical providers to treat the man with Ivermectin.”
The records included an email with screenshots of texts that appear to reference Danny O’Barr, who was being treated at a facility run by Providence Alaska.
The string of text messages shows the mayor and Demboski, his top deputy, discussing O’Barr’s predicament with McCoy and telling the police chief that they should “stand down.”
Assembly leaders said the texts at least partially support the Landmine’s allegation of the events involving O’Barr.
But they also said the text string is far from a conclusive account. The four pages of messages do not clearly lay out the discussions that preceded the messages and Demboski’s call to “stand down.”
They also lack any reference to a request or demand by Bronson administration officials that the man be treated with ivermectin — a possibility that was suggested, though not expressly alleged, by the Landmine’s report.
And the only other O’Barr-related records released by the administration were emails that McCoy, the police chief, sent to himself — one that attached the texts and another that contained a single line listing a date and time.
The subject line of both emails subject lines was “Providence 11-50 request,” which were references to the medical facility where O’Barr was being treated and to the Anchorage police code for a welfare check.
Constant said he thinks the records are clear enough to show that Bronson’s administration has misled the public. That happened, he said, when officials categorically disputed the account in the Landmine — even if the administration’s action involving O’Barr “wasn’t as damning as it sounded.”
“The records aren’t there to prove it, but I think we can assert effectively that the Landmine got the gist of it right, that there was something happening there, and when they denied it, that was a big fat lie,” Constant said.
Constant also said it’s clear that something precipitated the text message thread, and that the missing information is key to the full story.
“That’s the missing piece: the spark,” Constant said. “What caused all this to happen?”
Bronson’s office did not respond to emailed questions about the text messages.
His administration previously acknowledged a “discussion” between police and Bronson administration officials about sending officers to a hospital. But officials said the mayor never directed McCoy to do so, and that “everything was properly vetted through the right channels.”
In her letter to Constant and LaFrance this week, Demboski continued to dispute the Landmine’s account.
“No one ‘ordered Chief McCoy to have APD officers enter Anchorage medical facilities in order to “rescue” a man sick with COVID and/or compel medical providers to treat the man with Ivermectin,’ ” she wrote, quoting the Landmine’s story. “These allegations are categorically false.”
O’Barr’s daughter previously told Alaska Public Media that her family contacted Wasilla GOP Sen. Mike Shower when Providence’s COVID-19 visitation policy prevented her mother from visiting her sick father.
In a phone interview with the Daily News, Shower said he received a report that O’Barr was dying from COVID-19 and that his wife, former Wasilla City Council member Gretchen O’Barr, couldn’t get access to him.
Shower said he asked an official from Bronson’s administration — whom he wouldn’t identify — to see if there was something they could do to check on O’Barr. He said they called him back an hour or two later and informed him that connecting the O’Barrs over an iPad was their only option.
“They did their best. They looked into it and said, ‘Hey, all we can do is this iPad thing because of policy,’ ” Shower said. “That was the end of it.”
O’Barr is still in a rehabilitation facility recovering from his bout with COVID-19, but expects to be released in about two weeks, his wife said in a text message.
The Landmine’s report about O’Barr surfaced near the tail end of the state’s worst COVID-19 surge, which saw hospitals across the state activating crisis standards of care and Anchorage doctors making unprecedented choices about patient care.
A month before, Bronson had attacked some of the city’s hospitals, including Providence, for requiring vaccines — making any municipal intervention in hospital or health care operations an especially sensitive proposition.
“I think that there was concern from the chief at the time that they were being asked to cross a line,” said Assembly Member Kameron Perez-Verdia. “All this comes down to, for me, is just the decision making of the mayor — that’s what this is about. We want to hold our mayor responsible for his actions.”
A few weeks before the O’Barr incident, a heated debate over a mask ordinance had also unfolded in the Assembly chambers, with multiple chaotic public hearings stretching over two weeks.
That debate pitted the conservative mayor and his supporters, who were staunchly opposed to government-imposed COVID-19 restrictions, against the Assembly’s majority and its leadership — along with community members, doctors and health care experts who urged the city to take action to curb the pandemic.
The Assembly’s records request also covered documents related to an October hearing where those tensions culminated and Bronson’s administration removed security guards and a plexiglass shield from the Assembly chambers.
The Landmine’s report said that Bronson and Demboski “ordered McCoy to instruct Anchorage Police Department officers to leave the Assembly chambers” — an allegation the administration has denied.
The newly released records do not appear to contain any evidence to support that account. But Constant said that according to the former police chief, it’s true.
Constant said he discussed the incident directly with McCoy after the former chief left the department last month. The former chief confirmed to him that the administration directed police to leave the chambers, and that he refused, Constant said.
“He made it clear to the mayor and the municipal manager that he wasn’t going to order his officers out of the room — that they have a job to do to protect the government,” Constant said.
Since that meeting, an email from an Anchorage city employee has surfaced that describes an attempt by Demboski to shut down the livestreamed video feed, and also describes the fire chief intervening and instructing the employee to leave it running.