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Crime & Courts

Family friend of slain Palmer teen suggests parents should be liable for crimes of children

  • Author: Zaz Hollander
  • Updated: December 2, 2017
  • Published December 8, 2016

PALMER — A friend of David Grunwald's family wants Alaska to enact a new law making parents liable for their children's "heinous" crimes — like the one that befell Grunwald, the slain teenager from Palmer.

Grunwald, a 16-year-old from Palmer with a clean-cut reputation, triggered desperate searches when he went missing Nov. 13 after dropping off his girlfriend in Butte. The only clue available to most searchers was his Ford Bronco, burned to its frame up a rough road into the Talkeetna Mountains near Wasilla.

Alaska State Troopers found Grunwald dead last Friday, beaten and shot near the Knik River. They were led to his body by another teen, an acquaintance of the only suspect charged so far: Erick Almandinger, a former classmate of Grunwald's. Almandinger too is 16 but was charged as an adult.

In the aftermath of news reports based on those charges, some Valley residents this week angrily wondered on social media about Almandinger's relatives, and where they were as such a vicious crime occurred. The court documents don't indicate what — if anything — relatives were believed to have known.

But the charges described a savage sequence of events, based on an interrogation of Almandinger, that began in a camper-trailer behind Almandinger's home in Palmer. Almandinger said he, Grunwald and at least one other teen drank and smoked marijuana in the camper. Almandinger went into the home to fetch a gun, which was used to pistol-whip Grunwald. Grunwald was forced across the yard to his Ford Bronco, which was driven to Knik River Road. It was there that Grunwald was shot and killed.

Later, Almandinger told troopers, the teens tried to remove the blood in the camper with bleach, but ultimately they attempted to destroy evidence by burning a carpet.

Adam Mokelke's daughter, Victoria, was Grunwald's girlfriend.

Mokelke, a Butte resident who serves as principal of STrEaM Academy charter school in Anchorage, decided to channel community frustration into a mission.

He said he wants legislators to enact laws allowing people to sue the parents of juveniles who commit serious crimes against others. A number of states, including California, have similar laws.

Mokelke spent Thursday with daughter Victoria at the Palmer courthouse, where a grand jury was considering additional charges against other possible suspects in the Grunwald murder case.

When he suggested on Facebook that legislators create a parental liability law, he got flak along the lines of: good parents punished for bad seeds.

But Mokelke said he's looking for a tightly worded law that would allow a plaintiff to go after parents who "actively condone and enable" criminal actions by their minor children.

"I'm not on a witch hunt; I know full well that parents can have struggles with kids. That's not what we're talking about," he said. "We're talking about criminal behavior and parental enabling that leads to a heinous criminal act."

Grunwald's parents, Ben and Edie, are hoping for justice from the criminal investigation into their son's death but have not said anything about going after parents.

Making parents liable for failing to prevent a child's criminal actions also might prove difficult in Alaska given the precedent established by a nearly 20-year-old Alaska Supreme Court decision.

The family of a 24-year-old Anchorage man shot and killed in 1993 by an 18-year-old with a violent past sued the teen's parents. The state's highest court in 1999 upheld a Superior Court decision that the parents weren't liable.

The justices found that the parents didn't participate in the crime or know their son was going to do it, said Cindy Strout, who represented the teenager and now serves as the president of the Alaska Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

It's very tempting to react to something as deeply unsettling as Grunwald's murder with action, Strout said.

"But in terms of public policy, and the general law, can you hold a parent responsible for a kid going out and doing some completely unpredictable horrible thing?" she asked. "What's the parent supposed to do? Speaking as someone who's been a parent of a teenager, they're pretty unpredictable. You can't just lock them up for five years until they're 20."

Parents can face criminal charges under existing laws, such as hindering prosecution if they render assistance to children to keep them from being caught.

Victoria Mokelke told authorities that she and Grunwald gave somebody a ride to Almandinger's home in Palmer on Nov. 13 before Grunwald dropped her off at her home, her father said. They didn't see Almandinger but apparently there was an invitation to return later.

Mokelke said his daughter didn't know Almandinger or others identified as potential participants in the homicide in court documents. He said Grunwald was "acquainted at best" with the teens and called Almandinger a "periphery friend."

Both attended Colony High School but this year Almandinger went to Valley Pathways alternative high school and Grunwald switched to an engineering track at Mat-Su Career and Tech High School.

Troopers visited the Almandinger home for two days before they found the teenager there, according to the charging documents in the murder. They didn't take him to the Palmer post for questioning until Grunwald's body was found.

Almandinger's grandmother and father sat in on his interview that day, an investigator wrote in the affidavit.

Matanuska-Susitna Borough property records indicate the home identified as the location of the camper-trailer is owned by Myler Almandinger, the teen's grandmother. His father, Rodney, also lives there, according to state records.

An older woman could be seen at the other side of a decorative glass insert in the door at the house on Monday when an Alaska Dispatch News reporter rang the doorbell. She shouted: "No! We're not talking!" as a man began yelling inside.

"Let the facts speak for themselves," Adam Mokelke said. "This happened in his backyard. I would just look at the facts. The charging documents say the young man went into the house to retrieve a firearm."

Someone posted an accusation on Myler Almandinger's Facebook page that the family knew what happened to Grunwald but didn't say anything.

She responded with one word: "Wrong."

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