A Nome Police Department employee who admitted to punching a homeless woman while on duty earlier this year has been rehired by the city as a police dispatcher.
Community services officer Carl Putman told a colleague he hit the woman with a "balled fist" after she passed out Feb. 18, according to prosecutors. At the time, Putman lost his police department job and pleaded guilty to fourth-degree assault.
This month, the city hired him back as a 911 dispatcher making $21.52 an hour. The victim — who was also a key witness in the 2003 murder case against former Nome police officer Matthew Owens — says Putman ought to get jail time, not a new job.
"They should have fired him for real," said Florence Habros, 46.
Putman had been working as a community services officer in Nome for five years when he picked up Habros one Sunday in February and attempted to drive her to an emergency shelter. Habros, who was intoxicated, blacked out on the way.
"(Putman) became frustrated and punched her in the head," prosecutors for the Office of Special Prosecutions wrote in charges filed April 25.
City officials said Putman was hired on a temporary basis to fill an immediate need for dispatchers. Public safety jobs in rural Alaska are often hard to fill, and Putman could be replaced as soon as a suitable recruit is found, said City Manager Tom Moran.
The Norton Sound community of 3,800 has struggled with police staffing this year. Two other Nome police department employees have been demoted in the past six months, according to city records.
Police Chief John Papasodora said he does not plan to return when his contract ends in this fall.
Meanwhile, community concerns about Nome policing, including policies for sexual assault and domestic violence investigations unrelated to the on-duty assault, prompted a town hall meeting with city council members Saturday.
When a reporter called the Nome Police Department on Thursday to ask to speak to Putman, the man who answered the phone said he had no comment and hung up.
No jail time for on-duty assault
The police department learned of the assault Feb. 19, when Habros told a sergeant that Putman struck her the day before. A nurse told the investigator that Habros had arrived at the medical center with bruising to the left side of her face, charges say.
The sergeant then noticed Putman had not uploaded an audio recording of his interaction with Habros to police records, according to the charges. "CSO Putman claimed he forgot to turn his audio recorder on when dealing with Florence," prosecutors wrote.
Asked if there has been an investigation into whether an audio recording of Putman's encounter with Habros ever existed, and if so, had it been erased, the police chief said there is no sign that evidence was deleted.
"It's my opinion that there was no evidence tampering, that (Putman) didn't record that particular part of his contact," Papasodora said.
Putman admitted to police that he had picked Habros up on Front Street. She was intoxicated and he planned to take her to the shelter. Habros passed out, he said, and he was unable to revive her.
That's when Putman struck her, the charges say. He said he hit her on the left side of her head, possibly above her ear.
Habros told the Daily News that Putman gave her a black eye, which the officer has denied, according to the criminal complaint.
In a phone interview this week, Habros said she remembers being punched. Everything went white for a moment.
"I don't know why he hit me," she said.
Moran, the city manager, said Nome police handed the investigation over to the Office of Special Prosecutions. "We immediately took the file, packaged it up and gave it to the DA's office and said, 'We're not just going to protect our guy.' "
Putman agreed to plead guilty and received a suspended imposition of sentence. He will not serve jail time if he meets the conditions of his release.
In a phone interview, Habros said she was unhappy with the sentencing.
Fifteen years ago, she and her sister were among the last people to see Nome resident Sonya Ivanoff alive, when they watched the 19-year-old climb into the patrol car of then-Nome police officer Matthew Owens.
According to news reports at the time, Habros told police about what she saw but the tip wasn't followed up on for weeks. A jury convicted Owens of shooting and killing Ivanoff.
Habros says she remains scared of the police. "I can't trust them," she said.
Moran described the role of a community services officer as similar to that of a village police officer or village public safety officer. In Nome, CSOs do not carry firearms but may carry defense weapons such as batons or pepper spray.
The city of Nome describes community services officer jobs as sworn officers who assist police officers in dealing with intoxicated people, curfew violations and investigating minor misdemeanor offenses.
The Nome Police Department rehired Putman on a temporary, emergency basis on Aug. 4, city records show. His hourly pay is $9.70 less than he was making as a CSO.
As a dispatcher, he "acts as the initial point of delivery of law enforcement and public safety services to the community," according to the city job description.
Moran said Putman was hired because the police department faced multiple dispatcher vacancies and as a longtime community services officer he already knew the 911 system and was familiar with Nome geography and residents.
Moran said the department has had "a number" of previous 911 dispatchers with criminal records. The recent assault conviction is Putman's second misdemeanor. He previously pleaded guilty to criminal mischief in 2002.
"I understand why people have misgiving about it," Moran said of rehiring Putman. "But I don't regret it and I think it was the right thing to do."
"As soon as we get somebody qualified who wants to work for $21 a hour, which of course is one of the hurdles … Carl could be terminated immediately," the city manager said.