State prosecutors said Wednesday there wasn't enough evidence to press felony charges against an Anchorage couple accused in March of forcing their two teenage daughters to live without heat or power in a basement of a filthy East Anchorage home.
Paul Miovas, an assistant district attorney who reviewed the case, said most felony neglect laws require proof of serious physical injury or severe malnourishment.
He said that wasn't the case with the two girls, then ages 16 and 17, who showed up at Covenant House downtown in December after running away from home. The girls told authorities of "horrible" living conditions in the house on Vadla Way. A police investigator executing a search warrant later described as filled with trash and lacking heat, power and water.
"Although the conditions they lived in were very bad -- they were subjected to, no doubt, horrendous conditions in the house, neither one of them had any injuries or medical conditions that would have been able to satisfy that standard of serious physical injury," Miovas said.
On Wednesday, police declined to release further information about the girls' lives, including how they ate and where their food came from. A spokeswoman for the Anchorage Police Department declined comment.
The girls' parents, Patricia and Timothy Hogan, were arrested in early March on misdemeanor charges of child neglect and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. The case was brought by the city prosecutor's office, which can't charge felonies.
The Hogans have pleaded not guilty. They were released on $1,000 bail shortly after their arrest.
Until the girls turned up at Covenant House on Christmas Eve, the Office of Children's Services, the state agency that responds to child abuse, had never received a report of maltreatment on the family, OCS executive director Christy Lawton wrote in an email.
Lawton said OCS took custody of the girls shortly after they arrived at Covenant House. She said the agency has been coordinating with law enforcement ever since, "as well as ensuring the girls' needs are met."
"OCS will continue to care for the youth and will work with the parents and extended family members as required by policy and state, federal law," Lawton wrote.
In weighing charges, the state of Alaska doesn't have a specific child neglect law, Miovas said. He said Anchorage municipal laws on child neglect are broader, which is why he referred the case to the city as a misdemeanor.
"Maybe in this situation, most agree there should be a felony," Miovas said. "But I don't like to be creative about things and charge theories I can't prove, when there is an appropriate charge that could be leveled at the muni level."
He said it also would have been difficult to prove a kidnapping charge, because the Hogans had custodial rights over the children. He referred questions about whether the girls were under restraint to the charging documents, which make no mention of locked doors.
Pamela Winston, executive director of the Office of Victims' Rights, which advocates for victims within the Alaska criminal justice system, said prosecutors are guided by whether all the elements of a crime can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt under existing law.
While Winston said she didn't know the specifics of the Hogan case, she said ethics come in play.
"We don't want people charging people based on gut reaction or emotional reaction," Winston said.
But she said there's gaps in the system worthy of discussion, such as narrow standards for felony kidnapping charges. She added that it's difficult for neglect cases to come to light, in part because the children aren't seeing doctors and aren't going to school.
The Hogans' daughters told police they hadn't been to a doctor or dentist in years and had never been to public school. They also told authorities that any homeschooling they'd received had been sporadic.
State law has no requirement for parents to tell school districts or the state of homeschooling plans, and no registry of independent homeschoolers exists in Alaska, said Eric Fry, spokesman for the state Department of Education.
Miovas said the case is strange because of the absence of any OCS involvement or any hint of concern for the children's welfare leading to their running away.
"They get out of the house, they're discovered out of the blue," Miovas said. "You don't see many situations like this."
Alaska Dispatch Publishing