Crime & Courts

State charges former Alaska acting attorney general with 3 counts of sexual abuse of a minor

This article was produced in partnership with ProPublica as part of the ProPublica Local Reporting Network.

A special prosecutor has charged Alaska’s former acting attorney general with three counts of sexual abuse of a minor for having sex with a 17-year-old girl he coached on an Anchorage high school mock trial team in 1991.

The charges were filed Friday in Alaska state court in Anchorage against Clyde “Ed” Sniffen, who served as acting attorney general from August 2020 to January 2021. Gov. Mike Dunleavy asked the Department of Law to appoint an independent investigator to review the case after the Anchorage Daily News and ProPublica first reported in January 2021 that a woman had accused Sniffen of sexual misconduct.

Sniffen resigned as the newsrooms were preparing the article. In his resignation letter, Sniffen wrote that he had decided to step aside “after discussions with family, and for personal reasons.” Sniffen’s attorney declined comment and said he would not make his client available for an interview.

Dunleavy had appointed Sniffen as his permanent attorney general, subject to confirmation by the Legislature, days before his resignation. At that time, the governor said Sniffen “has a long and proven record of leadership within the Department of Law and I am proud to appoint him to serve as our state’s next Attorney General.”

Sniffen replaced former Attorney General Kevin Clarkson, who resigned after the Daily News and ProPublica reported he had sent hundreds of questionable texts to a female colleague. In his resignation letter, Clarkson wrote, “I regret that my actions and errors in judgment in interacting with a state employee have become a distraction to the good work and good people working in the state’s and your service.”

Nikki Dougherty White, now 48, told the news organizations that Sniffen first had sex with her during a mock trial team trip for a competition in New Orleans and continued their sexual relationship upon returning to Anchorage. Those allegations form the basis for the felony charges filed Friday.

White had come forward publicly for the first time after learning that Sniffen had been appointed attorney general.

Reached by phone Friday, special prosecutor Gregg Olson declined to discuss the details of the charges. White also declined to comment.

The Department of Law, in a statement issued late Friday, said: “Within 24 hours of learning of the allegations against Mr. Sniffen, this office acted to appoint a special prosecutor in the interest of justice, fairness, and transparency. Now that the charges have been filed, the special prosecutor will continue to make decisions independent from the Department of Law to bring the case to resolution.”

The Law Department statement continued: “The allegation that Mr. Sniffen took advantage of his authority to engage in sexual acts with the victim is disturbing and disappointing. As attorneys who work on behalf of the State to hold people accountable, we expect to be held to the same level of accountability. This further compels us to be advocates for victims, and more importantly, clearly emphasize our role is to ensure justice for every Alaskan.”

Anchorage police investigated the case, interviewing White and other former members of the West Anchorage High School mock trial team who joined Sniffen on the trip to New Orleans.

Friday’s criminal complaint, which was first reported by the Alaska Beacon, focuses on Sniffen’s alleged actions in Alaska, following the New Orleans trip. Sniffen is accused of having sex with White, who is identified by her initials in the complaint, three times between May 13 and May 28, 1991.

The complaint says the offenses took place at the homes of Sniffen’s friends and at the Hotel Captain Cook in Anchorage. Sniffen was 27 years old at the time.

Under an Alaska law enacted in 1990, months before Sniffen and White traveled to New Orleans, it was illegal for an adult to have sex with a 16- or 17-year-old whom he or she was teaching, counseling or coaching. (In many other instances, the age of consent in Alaska is 16.)

Olson said the charges carry a maximum of five years in prison each. Because of the timing of the alleged offense, Sniffen would not be required to register as a sex offender if convicted, he said.

Kyle Hopkins

Kyle Hopkins is special projects editor of the Anchorage Daily News. He was the lead reporter on the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Lawless" project and is part of an ongoing collaboration between the ADN and ProPublica's Local Reporting Network. He joined the ADN in 2004 and was also an editor and investigative reporter at KTUU-TV. Email khopkins@adn.com

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