Walker's appointment of Williams puts Alaska corrections officers at risk

The Alaska Department of Corrections is broken.

There's no question about that. I know this firsthand because I was a correctional officer for 11 years, and only recently left the job.

However, the broken department is not the fault of the men and women who put their lives on the line every day inside the institutions, regardless of what the new corrections commissioner, Gov. Bill Walker or the mob mentality of those on social media would like you to believe.

Over the course of my career I worked at three different facilities encompassing the full gamut of correctional duties around the state until I chose to resign for medical reasons.

Last Friday my heart sank as legislators showed they are clueless as to how dangerous a correctional officer's job really is when they confirmed Walker's corrections commissioner appointee Dean Williams; it wasn't just a smack in the face of correctional officers, it was the knockout blow.

Williams' confirmation was a stunning declaration to those on the front lines in our institutions that nobody in our state government is on their side.

I have never considered any decision by a governor I've worked for so dangerous as when Walker appointed Williams. I am now genuinely concerned for the lives and safety of those who work in our prison system.


Let me be clear about something. I knew Dean Williams long before his involvement in corrections, and I like him -- in fact he and I were co-hosts for a Walker/Mallott fundraiser on October 6, 2014. Like me, many correctional officers were excited about a possible Walker administration in hopes that we would find a more fair administration -- apparently, that notion was misguided.

When Walker fired Commissioner Ron Taylor, he appointed Walt Monegan in interim status vowing to "begin a search, which perhaps will be a nationwide search." That never happened. Two months later, Walker named Williams commissioner of the DOC.

The problems with Williams became evident before he was appointed commissioner. As a special assistant to the governor, he released a report that was unfairly critical of correctional officers. The Alaska Correctional Officers Association wrote a response to this report, titled "The Officer's Perspective."

In December Williams released now-infamous video of correctional officers trying to subdue Larry Kobuk at the Anchorage Correctional Complex without blurring their faces, putting them and their families at risk.

He released this video after first deleting the audio track, which proved that Kobuk was threatening officers and being combative. ACOA points out in their rebuttal that Williams gives two differing reasons in one day for not releasing the audio.

The ACOA report says, "First, "Williams said the audio was not released because of the way the audio files were structured on the computer system." The report continues, "The same day, Williams must have realized his statements were not plausible, and he said, 'I would have released the audio if anyone was interested in it … I just didn't think it was necessary.' "

The other problem with releasing video of these types of use-of-force incidents is that the public has no context by which to understand what officers are doing. The general public hasn't been trained in use-of-force techniques these officers have; they haven't been inside cells with combative inmates; and by and large they have not had to try to subdue people who are high, drunk, screaming obscenities and threatening to "put a bullet in your brain" (part of the audio that Williams removed).

Williams' actions in releasing this video without the audio put correctional officers lives at risk -- specifically those officers in the video, who were identifiable, but all correctional officers were at risk thanks to the release of that video. The ACOA report highlighted some of the comments from the KTUU Facebook page:

"Find out where each & everyone of these officers live and pay them a visit! It's called seek and destroy? These punks trashing on natives & killing them. Maybe these idiots are looking for a race war. GEAR UP!"

"Th(i)s is why people riot. Nothing will change without spilling blood."

"all C/O's needs to be jumped and have them make it feel how it feels to be treated that way ..."

Williams releasing that tape, as well as his general misunderstanding of the job that correctional officers have to do, puts correctional officers' lives and safety in grave danger -- and now he's their commissioner, confirmed by a Legislature that clearly does not care.

Alaska's prisons are now a much more dangerous place than they were before last Friday. The department now has a commissioner with a fundamental lack of institutional knowledge that doesn't stop him from attacking the officers who now unfortunately have to work for him.

Mike Dingman is a fifth-generation Alaskan born and raised in Anchorage. He is a former University of Alaska Anchorage student body president who has worked, studied and volunteered in Alaska politics since the late-90s. Email, michaeldingman@gmail.com.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary@alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@alaskadispatch.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

Mike Dingman

Mike Dingman is a fifth-generation Alaskan born and raised in Anchorage. He is a former UAA student body president and has worked, studied and volunteered in Alaska politics since the late '90s.