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Attempted sexual abuse charges against trooper highlight 2014 investigation for inappropriate texts

Update 9 a.m. Wednesday:

Vance Peronto was no longer a state employee as of Tuesday, according to the Alaska Department of Public Safety.

The reasons for that change in personnel status are considered confidential, an agency spokesman said.

Original Tuesday story:

On March 5, 2014, at the end of a three-day sexual assault investigation training, an Anchorage prosecutor walked up to an Alaska State Troopers sergeant holding her cellphone.

Florina Altshiler told the sergeant she was concerned about a text message exchange she'd had with a trooper also attending the training, according to filings in a federal lawsuit.

His name was Vance Peronto.

According to photos of the text exchange — now considered evidence in a federal lawsuit — Peronto asked Altshiler on a date. She pointed out he was 21 years older than her.

"That's child molester territory," she wrote.

"I will sooooo enjoy molesting you Slooowly," he texted.

The moment launched a formal investigation of Peronto by the Alaska Department of Public Safety and ignited a multiyear court battle that's still unfurling in federal court.

Four years later, Peronto faces a charge of attempted sexual assault of a minor for allegedly sending explicit messages to a 16-year-old girl he met when he pulled her over in a traffic stop in Kenai. A career trooper, Peronto is 57.

On Sunday, police arrested Peronto as he — bearing a gift of Victoria's Secret panties — showed up in his patrol car to what he believed was a hotel date with the girl. He is being held in the segregation unit of the Anchorage jail, according to the Department of Corrections.

With the trooper facing sex abuse charges, the ongoing lawsuit, the 2014 text exchange and its complicated fallout have taken on a new significance.

When the Alaska State Troopers investigated Trooper Vance Peronto more than four years ago for inappropriate communication with a woman, what did they find? And what, if anything, did they do about it?

Altshiler, now an attorney in Buffalo, New York, says she first reported the texts because she wanted to avoid "this exact kind of situation."

"I thought his behavior was so inappropriate that it made me think potentially he was taking advantage of other people who were either not coming forward or coming forward and their claims were being dismissed," she said in a phone interview Tuesday.

She says the way the state handled the case "paved the way for him to attempt to commit a sexual assault."

Vance Peronto was arraigned on April 30, 2018 at the Anchorage jail. Peronto, an Alaska state trooper, was charged with attempted sexual abuse of a minor. (Marc Lester / ADN)

After the text incident, things got messy quickly when Altshiler refused to participate in the troopers' internal investigation. She was eventually fired.

The state says she was fired for poor judgment and dishonesty in how she handled the trooper investigation, specifically by failing to tell investigators that her phone had exchanged more than 100 messages with Peronto the day before the exchange she complained about.

She maintains that her firing was in retaliation for reporting Peronto. She filed a wrongful termination lawsuit in state court. It was later moved to federal court because it involves an allegation of a violations of federal civil rights law.

In photos of the March 5 text message exchange included as exhibits in the case, Altshiler appears to be fending off advances from Peronto.

"Movie with me? Dinner with me? Drink with me?" he wrote.

After the "molesting you" comment, he kept on: "Scare ya? Crap. Lol. She ran. Lol. Awwwwe. Hello? Stop stalking you? Lol," the messages say.

"I am not interested," she replied, the last message pictured in the photos.

Filings in the case show the Department of Public Safety aggressively investigated the claims Altshiler made about Peronto.

Within days, an investigator with the department's internal affairs unit called Peronto and Altshiler for interviews. Peronto was interviewed more than once, and a forensic examination was done on his phone.

But what the Department of Public Safety concluded about the investigation is not public. Filings including excerpts from the report were filed under seal in the federal lawsuit.

It is not clear whether Peronto was disciplined. He continued to work as a trooper, at some point moving to the Soldotna post.

At a Tuesday hearing in the case, attorneys for Altshiler said that in light of the criminal charges against Peronto, they might try to introduce new evidence in that case.

In the new criminal case, meanwhile, Peronto was scheduled to appear in court Monday.

This story has been updated to clarify that Altshiler originally filed a wrongful termination lawsuit in state court. 

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