Crime & Courts

Anchorage correctional officer accused of bringing drugs into jail

A correctional officer brought drugs into the Anchorage Correctional Complex and distributed them to incarcerated individuals at their request, according to charging documents.

An arrest warrant was issued for Joseph Tavai, 56, at the end of August and he appeared in court Friday on charges of promoting contraband and misconduct involving a controlled substance.

In July, a man incarcerated at the Anchorage Correctional Center told an attorney that Tavai was bringing drugs into the facility, according to a sworn affidavit signed by Sgt. David Chaffin of the Alaska State Troopers. Tavai was scheduled to bring drugs to the jail again at the end of the month, the affidavit said.

A Department of Corrections drug detection dog trained to smell cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine was brought to the jail that day and signaled at Tavai’s locker, the affidavit said. No drugs were found, but there were a number of paper bags in the locker, the affidavit said.

Another K9 also searched the module, or section of the jail, where Tavai had been working and alerted to a filing cabinet, the affidavit said. The module was placed in lockdown and searched, but no drugs were found, the affidavit said.

Corrections staff then reviewed surveillance footage and saw Tavai entering the module and taking a paper bag from the cabinet before handing it to an incarcerated man, the charges said. As the module was being placed on lockdown to be searched, the man could be seen running to the filing cabinet and grabbing something from it, the affidavit said.

Corrections staff noticed five suspicious incidents in recordings beginning in June, the affidavit said. About nine days after Tavai was recorded handing a paper bag to a person incarcerated in the facility, 32 grams of methamphetamine and 33 grams of marijuana were found hidden in a broom handle in the module, the affidavit said.

During an interview, Tavai told an investigator that he met up with people in Anchorage at the request of people imprisoned at the jail to pick up envelopes to bring into the facility, the affidavit said. He was paid between $1,000 and $3,000 each time, the affidavit said.

Tavai said he “didn’t know what was inside the envelopes, that he suspected it was ‘papers,’ but that he ‘knew he screwed up,’ ” the affidavit said.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections said Tuesday that Tavai is no longer an employee.