Crime & Courts

Attorney: State 'jumped the gun' with sex assault charges against hospital security guard

The attorney representing former hospital security guard and Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory forensic scientist John Giacalone says state prosecutors "jumped the gun" when they charged his client with two counts of sexual assault.

Anchorage police arrested Giacalone in mid-July. He was never indicted by a grand jury, and assistant district attorney Jenna Gruenstein announced late last week that charges of first- and second-degree sex assault against Giacalone were dropped due to "substantial doubt as to what occurred on the night in question."

A 17-year-old girl told police she'd been sleeping in the hospital's waiting room. Giacalone shook her awake and led her to an office, then sexually assaulted the teen, according to the dropped charges.

Soldotna-based lawyer Eric Derleth, who represents Giacalone, said the girl's account of the assault was full of contradictions.

"It is tragic that John was ever charged with this, since before he was arrested the police already knew" the alleged victim's story lacked credibility, he said.

Deputy district attorney Clint Campion said the state decided to drop the case once it became clear the evidence left substantial doubt about whether Giacalone committed the crime. That doubt doesn't mean probable cause never existed, he said.

The Anchorage Police Department's Special Victims Unit persisted with its investigation "against Mr. Giacalone after the arrest," Campion said. "As detectives referred additional evidence to the prosecutors, the case was continuously reviewed."


While Derleth wouldn't permit an interview with Giacalone until he's certain the state will not re-charge his client, the attorney said he's "pissed" the state didn't apologize. They ruined Giacalone and got him fired from two beloved jobs, he said.

Video footage conflicts with victim’s story

Derleth said the state provided him with partial video and pictures of the accuser's visit to Alaska Regional Hospital. The footage shows her walking back and forth between the hospital's emergency department waiting room and the office, he said.

She went to the hospital with a friend and the friend's mother, Derleth said, adding that they allegedly left her there when the girl passed out in a chair and she couldn't be roused.

The girl awoke at 2 a.m., and video shows her head lolling. "Within a few minutes, she falls on the floor, almost passed-out," Derleth said. A security guard -- not Giacalone -- comes in and urges the girl to wake up and get off the floor, he said.

A minute later, Giacalone passes the waiting room and "hardly glances over at her," Derleth said. Several moments later, he said, the video shows the accused man approaching the girl and giving her a cup of water. By then, he said, she's awake and sitting erect in a chair.

"John never woke her up, as she claimed, and he certainly did not shake her shoulders to awaken her," the attorney said.

What follows are several more interactions between the accused and the accuser. Giacalone leaves the waiting room and returns about 18 minutes later, according to Derleth's recap of the video footage. He moves around the room, acknowledging a woman and a young girl who is dancing around the waiting area.

The accuser said she was alone in the room when Giacalone shook her awake, according to the dropped charges.

At this point, Derleth said, the footage shows his client walking toward a set of doors and holding one open. The girl gets up and goes through the doors and into the office area. The office where the alleged sex assault occurred is near the doorway, Derleth said.

The girl returns some time later wearing a yellow raincoat over her pink windbreaker. She is "acting normally," sitting and sipping a cup of water for 19 minutes, Derleth said.

This is where the video ends, though Derleth said he pieced together the rest of the story with video stills. The girl enters the set of doors once again. She is gone for about six minutes, Derleth said, then returns and sits by the hospital's phone. After a chatting with a male nurse for several minutes, she gets up and leaves the hospital, still wearing the borrowed raincoat.

The last photo Derleth obtained shows Giacalone walking into the hospital holding the coat, as he ran and intercepted the girl in the parking lot to get it back.

Allegations and contradictions

According to Derleth, the girl called her older sister, stating she needed a ride because "a 'cop' kicked her out of the hospital." She tells her sister the cop made her remove her pants during a drug search. The sister asked the girl if he raped her, and the girl allegedly replied that he had.

Later that day, an Anchorage police investigator interviewed the girl. He asked her to describe in detail what happened, and "she merely says a man shook her shoulder to wake her up (and) told her to empty her pockets," Derleth said. She further claimed the man took her to a room and sexually assaulted her, he said.

When the investigator pressed the girl about the location of the room, she said she couldn't recall but believed there were "lots of corners" and probably an elevator, Derleth said. She also said she ran out of the room crying and left the hospital, he said.

Derleth alleges additional contradictions as well. She failed to identify Giacalone in a lineup of six suspects, he said. He also suspects the girl was high on drugs, but the state hasn't provided test results, if they took any.

"(Gruenstein) got egg on her face after jumping the gun and swallowing whole a high young woman's story that the police knew one hour into their investigation was dubious, at best," Derleth said.


An uncertain future

While Derleth doesn't know for certain whether the state will attempt to bring new charges against Giacalone, he is adamant that his client -- who was in the news earlier this year as the whistleblower who uncovered sample tampering at the state crime lab -- is innocent.

Giacalone was a state trooper on the East Coast for 22 years, Derleth said. He's a workaholic who gives money to people in need.

Friends echoed Derleth's endorsement of Giacalone's character.

"I took advantage of John's work ethic as his supervisor," said Jeffrey Lathrom, who in the past worked with Giacalone at a security company. "His was the first phone number I'd call when looking for a last-minute replacement or someone to work weekends and holidays."

That strong work ethic was part of the reason Giacalone was moonlighting as a security guard, Lathrom said, adding that his former co-worker has personal reasons for needing extra money, "like most Americans."

Asked if Giacalone would be considered for rehire now that the charges have been dropped, a Department of Public Safety spokesperson said personnel matters are confidential under Alaska law.

Jerzy Shedlock

Jerzy Shedlock is a former reporter for Alaska Dispatch News. He left the ADN in 2017.