Anchorage

Anchorage police officers violated policy in traffic stop where woman used ‘white privilege card,’ deputy chief says

The Anchorage Police Department found that two officers violated policy during a July traffic stop in which a woman showed them a “white privilege card” instead of a driver’s license, but it’s unclear what — if any — disciplinary actions resulted.

The incident has not led to any policy changes, the police department said. During a Public Safety Committee meeting Wednesday, Deputy Chief Sean Case made a broad statement about what happened and said the department always has room for changes or additions to their training.

The situation was brought to the police department’s attention two days after it occurred because of a Facebook post made by Mimi Israelah, who was stopped by officers on July 7, that was widely shared on social media. In the post, Israelah took a selfie with Anchorage police officer Nicholas Bowe as she held up a “white privilege card,” which she said worked in place of a driver’s license. Many found the now-deleted post offensive and called the officers’ conduct unacceptable.

“We recognize that the post, what was contained in that post, caused a bit of a public uproar, and there were a lot of people that saw that and did not like that post and had negative reactions to that — thought it was an inappropriate post — and we recognize that,” Case said.

Bowe and officer Charles Worland stopped Israelah at 3:37 a.m. because they noted a car weaving in a lane, according to police spokeswoman Sunny Guerin.

“While this is not a citable offense, it is one of many indicators an officer uses as a possible sign of driving under the influence,” she wrote in an email.

In the post, Israelah said she couldn’t find her driver’s license and instead showed police a “white privilege card” that she’d purchased from a novelty website. Israelah, who identifies herself as Pinay or Filipina on her social media profiles, had traveled to Anchorage for former President Donald Trump’s political rally and said in the post that she was driving to pick up pizza when she was stopped.

Mimi Israelah at Trump Rally

In a video apparently taken by Israelah and reposted on Twitter, she asks the officers if they like the card, and one responds, “That’s hilarious.”

Officers did not note signs of impairment from Israelah and she was ultimately not cited during the stop.

Anchorage municipal code does require that all drivers carry their license on them at all times when operating a vehicle. Guerin said that police can do a computer check to determine whether a person has a valid driver’s license.

[Previous coverage: Anchorage police interaction and selfie with woman flashing ‘white privilege card’ spurs outcry and official investigation]

Jeremy Conkling, a sergeant with the department and the president of the police union, said officers generally don’t write citations for minor offenses, like not having a physical license present. They have discretion in such situations, he said.

“Especially in this circumstance, where you had a very, very low-level minor offense and the officers are really just focused on trying to find DUIs — I’m not at all surprised they didn’t write a citation. I don’t know that a lot of officers would have written that citation, if any,” Conkling said.

But Celeste Hodge Growden, president of the Alaska Black Caucus, said she still wonders if the lack of citation was tied to the card — “Is it because the white privilege card was effective?”

Both Worland and Bowe were placed on administrative leave while the 11-day investigation was ongoing, Case said. Police would not provide additional information about the internal investigation, including which policies were violated and what, if any, repercussions the officers faced.

“The investigation regarding the incident is completed and is a part of confidential personnel files that will not be released publicly,” department spokeswoman Guerin wrote.

Both officers remain employed with the Anchorage Police Department, according to another APD spokeswoman, Cherie Zajdzinski.

Assembly member Kevin Cross said during Wednesday’s meeting that he was happy with how the police department responded and said he did not think “anything of malice or ill content was intended” from the officers.

“Our public carry cameras everywhere, and they’re taking a snapshot of a moment in time, and we all understand how wildly inaccurate the public can be with information as given,” he said. “I commend them for taking 11 days to investigate this while this poor guy sat on administrative leave because somebody in the car had a stupid thing in their hands. The look on the officer’s face could have been like, ‘This is ridiculous,’ or ‘What is this?’ Sometimes you’re just kind of taken aback by the absurdity of human beings.”

But for a number of people in the community, the post was hurtful, Hodge Growden said.

“As a Black person, I was truly offended,” she said. “And maybe some can’t understand that because they’re not a person of color, they’re not Black, but that was deeply offensive to members within our community and to some that are racially profiled by law enforcement. ... I can’t understand why the officers found that humorous.”

Hodge Growden said she wants the police department to accept accountability for what happened and also be transparent about what disciplinary actions the officers faced. This could have been a teachable moment, she said.

APD Chief Michael Kerle issued a broad statement referencing discrimination and cultural awareness shortly after Israelah’s Facebook post triggered backlash, but it did not directly mention the incident.

“An apology, that could start the conversation. ... But this is just getting old, and we’re tired of having to come back,” Hodge Growden said. “Wouldn’t it be great if, on their own, they could step up and say, ‘Hey, we messed up, we own it, here’s some things — we want to meet with the communities out there that we’ve hurt.’ ”

During Wednesday’s meeting, Case answered a question about what the department plans to do going forward to ensure that the situation is not repeated. He said the department continuously undergoes training, including sessions on cultural diversity.

“Those wheels are already in motion,” he said. “It’s not a result of this particular situation — there is an ongoing need within the police department, not for any specific reason other than it’s part of our job to continuously provide training to our officers in anything that’s related to — whether it’s cultural diversity, whether it’s how to better communicate with the folks that we serve.”

There have been no policy changes as a result of the incident, said police spokeswoman Renee Oistad.

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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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