Crime & Courts

Anchorage-based trooper choked and assaulted women he was involved with, charges say

An Anchorage-based Alaska State Trooper choked two women he was romantically involved with and physically assaulted another on at least two occasions, charging documents say.

Garrett Willis, 40, was arrested Monday on eight counts of domestic violence assault. Col. Bryan Barlow, director of the troopers, told reporters this week that the investigation was ongoing and it is possible more charges will be filed against Willis, who has been a trooper since 2003.

The charges come after a series of alleged assaults that occurred over the last three years in the Kenai and Wasilla areas.

The three women told authorities they didn’t previously report the violence because they didn’t think they would be believed, since Willis is a law enforcement officer, Sgt. Todd Moehring of the troopers wrote in a sworn affidavit. They were also afraid that he would hurt them again, Moehring wrote.

Willis is the second trooper in as many months to face felony charges. Soldotna-based trooper Benjamin Strachan was arrested in October on seven charges of sexual abuse of a minor.

Willis physically assaulted one of the women on Nov. 1, and she reported it the next day to Wasilla police, the affidavit said. Talking to investigators, she also described another instance of physical assault that had occurred more than three years earlier, according to the affidavit.

A second woman, who was friends with the first, reported instances of past abuse from Willis to authorities later that week after hearing of the first woman’s report, the affidavit said.

Moehring wrote that the woman “felt that she needed to make a report once she knew that there were others who Willis had assaulted.”

A third woman reported previous abuse from Willis after one of the others had reached out to her about rumors that he had also assaulted her, the charges said.

The affidavit details a number of physical assaults, ranging from Willis chest bumping and kneeing one of the victims to instances of strangulation that two of the women said caused them to fear for their lives.

In one incident, he grabbed a woman by the throat and pinned her head with his other arm, the affidavit said.

On another occasion, he put his forearm to a different woman’s throat and pinned her against a metal bedframe, according to the affidavit. She had a black eye because her head struck part of the bed frame. She was “embarrassed” about the situation but eventually told a friend about the assault, which the friend confirmed to investigators, the affidavit said.

According to the affidavit, one woman said that “Willis had previously ‘joked but not so joked’ to (her) that he would beat her and kill her. Willis had repeatedly told her he knew how to get rid of her body.”

The three women also described a pattern of abusive behavior outlined in the affidavit. Willis called the women names, put them down to others and made the women feel as though all problems were their fault, they told Moehring.

In a domestic violence protection order, one of the women described Willis as being emotionally and mentally abusive. When she tried to leave Willis, he harassed her and her family and friends, the protection order said.

“All three victims in this investigation have expressed an extreme fear for their safety over what Garrett Willis can do and because of his training as an Alaska State Trooper,” Moehring wrote.

Willis was arrested on two charges of second-degree domestic violence assault and three counts each of third- and fourth-degree domestic violence assault. Five of the charges are felonies.

He appeared in court Tuesday, and a judge ordered his bail remain set at $10,000 as it had been in the arrest warrant. Bail was posted for him Monday, court records show, and he will be on electronic monitoring during release.

During Tuesday’s hearing, Assistant Attorney General Sam Vandergaw said Willis’ experience as a law enforcement officer adds to the seriousness of the crimes.

“These instances, each one of them, could have escalated into something much more serious,” he said. “With Mr. Willis being employed how he is, he knows how dangerous his actions have been and what he’s doing. ... He’s consciously making these choices to put these women in fear and to hurt them in this manner, and it could easily escalate.”

Defense attorney Jennifer Messick represented Willis at the hearing Tuesday but said she will not be representing him in future criminal proceedings and did not comment on the case.

Barlow, the troopers director, said this week that troopers are trained about domestic violence investigation “so that we’re competent and skilled in those investigations.”

Willis lives in Wasilla but is an investigator for the troopers who most recently worked on a federal task force in Anchorage, Barlow said. Willis has served in numerous locations across the state and was placed on leave Nov. 10.

Willis was a coach for the Mat-Su Amateur Hockey Association in recent years, although an official from the organization said Tuesday that he is no longer in the position. Willis is also known throughout the rodeo community, according to court documents.