Three former law enforcement officers have lost their ability to serve in police or corrections positions throughout Alaska, following votes by a state panel that met in Anchorage earlier this month.
The Alaska Police Standards Council, which certifies law enforcement officers to work in Alaska, voted at a quarterly meeting Dec. 6 to revoke Adam Jason Spindler's certification to work as an officer, and accept voluntarily surrendered certifications from Jeremie Alvarez and Mark C. Harreus. Spindler and Alvarez had served as correctional officers with the Alaska Department of Corrections, while Harreus had last worked at the Bristol Bay Borough Police Department.
The council revoked Spindler's certification outright over his admission in an August federal plea deal that he had smuggled drugs into the Goose Creek Correctional Center. Documents from the council said Alvarez violated a DOC code of conduct barring "undue familiarity" with inmates in his custody at the Anchorage Correctional Complex, and Harreus had questionable conduct on his record from jobs at previous police departments.
Bob Griffiths, the council's executive director, said Friday that APSC revoked or received the surrender of nine officers' certifications in cases that began during 2016. The year was a busy one for the council, though, due to nine additional certifications revoked or surrendered this year stemming from 2015 cases.
"We had kind of a logjam of cases that were all going through at the same time, so they created a substantial workload," Griffiths said.
According to the APSC accusation against Alvarez, a colleague of his at the Anchorage Correctional Complex told her superiors at DOC that Alvarez had spoken with an ex-girlfriend of his being held in a dorm at the facility on June 21.
Later that day, the accusation said, Alvarez asked a sergeant about moving his ex-girlfriend to the Hiland Mountain Correctional Center in Eagle River. She had been transferred there earlier in the day, but APSC said Alvarez "did not notify anyone in his chain of command" about their prior relationship.
The colleague said Alvarez also spoke with another female inmate the same morning, visiting her cell again for conversations over the next two days. According to the complaint, Alvarez also told his co-worker that he had established communication with the inmate through a fake Facebook account.
DOC launched an investigation of the allegations against Alvarez on June 22, which produced surveillance video of him speaking with the inmates as well as evidence of Facebook and phone conversations he had arranged. Alvarez resigned on June 27.
"The conduct that he engaged in at work was sufficient that nobody would ever want him to be a correctional officer again, because he was pretty clearly violating fundamental rules regarding separations of inmates," Griffiths said. "That can't be tolerated in an institution if you're going to run it properly."
The APSC accusation against Harreus said he had served as a police officer in Federal Way, Washington, from 1996 until 2003, when department records indicate he was "terminated for untruthfulness." He took officer positions in several Alaska jurisdictions including Unalakleet, the Bristol Bay Borough and Craig, then briefly worked in Winthrop, Washington, over the winter of 2014 before being hired again at the Bristol Bay Borough as a seasonal police officer in 2015.
According to the accusation, while working with the Alaska Office of Children's Services in 2011, Harreus failed to notify foster parents that a child he'd placed with them had "a life-threatening illness" requiring regular blood testing and medication.
Harreus resigned from that job after he was informed OCS planned to fire him, according to the council. In his later job applications with the Craig and Bristol Bay Borough police departments, however, Harreus wrote that he left OCS "as I did not like the job" — despite requirements in both applications that he mention and explain any situations in which a previous employer had intended to terminate him.
Harreus spent two years with the Craig Police Department from March 2012 to October 2014, APSC said, resigning after a string of supervisory actions over "rude or unprofessional contact with the public, not following departmental policies and creating a disruptive work environment within the police department."
Police Chief R.J. Ely wrote in a 2014 memorandum that "Harreus has had more complaints, warnings and/or write-ups than any other staff member at CPD, during my eight years with the department."
Griffiths said the council had only recently become aware of some of Harreus' conduct, leading to the investigation. He also said that in addition to penalizing Harreus, the decision was intended to "get the message across" to departments like the Bristol Bay Borough's about poorly screened seasonal hires.
"They're not the only one in the state that does this, so they shouldn't be singled out — there are other communities in the state that have a huge influx of fishing or tourism," Griffiths said. "We typically see these communities trying to cover the workload with seasonal hires, which just don't accommodate the regulations we set up."
The council is working to establish a system that allows inactive or retired officers with strong records to take seasonal jobs without extensive recertification work, Griffiths said.
Bristol Bay Borough Police Chief Stan Swetzof said Friday that everybody he's hired, including Harreus, has gone through a full background check. Swetzof said he's spoken with Griffiths about seasonal-hire issues, but pointed out that APSC currently requires an officer to accumulate a year of service with a police agency to be certified — a provision impossible to satisfy at a seasonal job, which may end after just a month or two.
"Even when we do a full background on somebody, even if they're not certified but if they're certifiable, they'll never be fully certified because it's a seasonal position," Swetzof said. "For now, I have no other alternative — I have to hire seasonals."
A common factor in the three officers' lost certifications, Griffiths said, was the presence of not only misconduct but also an attempt to conceal it.
"I tell academy students that, you know, we all make mistakes in our life and many of them we will overcome — some of them we will be disciplined over, some of them we may even lose our jobs over," Griffiths said. "But when we lie and we cover up these mistakes, we have just lost our integrity, and when you lie and cover up you will never, ever be in this profession again."