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North Slope Borough police chief says he was fired without explanation

  • Author: Nathaniel Herz
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published August 5, 2015

The North Slope Borough's former police chief says he was abruptly fired by Mayor Charlotte Brower last month for "no real reason."

Jonathan Owen, who was hired in late January, said he was asked by Brower's staff on July 24 to draft a letter of resignation saying he was retiring to be closer to his family, even though he intended to keep his job through the end of Brower's term, more than two years away.

"I was not given a reason for my termination," Owen said.

A spokeswoman for Brower, Kristine Hilderbrand, said the mayor was unavailable for an interview Wednesday. But Hilderbrand denied Owen was told what to say in his resignation letter.

"He resigned," Hilderbrand said in a phone interview. "He was asked for his letter of resignation and provided it."

Owen's firing took place less than two weeks after the North Slope Borough Assembly hired a law firm to investigate allegations of ethics violations in Brower's office. Owen said he didn't know whether his dismissal was connected to the investigation into public money paid by Brower's office to members of her family, which included payments to two of her daughters in exchange for cakes and crafts.

Owen, previously Palmer's public safety director, said North Slope residents had praised his efforts to improve community policing and to get to the bottom of two unsolved homicides that took place in 2012 and 2013.

"Both of these homicides were solvable," Owen said in a phone interview from Palmer. "But they had been neglected."

At the borough's Assembly meeting Tuesday, one member, John Hopson Jr., said he found Owen's departure problematic.

"I don't know what's going on. But we, at the Assembly level, agreed to back him up when he was being confirmed," said Hopson, who represents the villages of Wainwright and Atqasuk. "I thought we were going to help him, support him, to get things done to move the department forward."

Brower responded that Owen's departure is "a matter that is handled by the administration."

Owen also said the former borough attorney, Lauren Berdow, lost her job last month. Hilderbrand, Brower's spokeswoman, confirmed Berdow no longer works for the borough but wouldn't provide additional details. Berdow didn't respond to a request for comment.

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